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vSUUCR MVLOVrrCII DlAdlllLl-V, I(S72-I92() 



HIS LIFE, HIS WORK, 
HIS LEGEND 

An Intimate Biography 

by 

SERGE L.IFAR 

MAltRE DE BALLET, PREMIER DANSEUR 
ETOILE DU THEATRE NATIONALE, PARIS 



G-P*PUTNAM’S SONS 
NEW YORK 



COPYRIOMT, 1940 , »Y 

G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS 

All rights reserved. This book, or psrts thewif, must 
not be repcodaced in «ny form without t>erinissi»n. 


0 ¥ 


MANUrACTUXXS IK TIIX VNITKl) STATES 


A M K S I (' A 



PREFACE 


NOW THAT this book is about to be delivered to the public, I must 
confess myself moved and somewhat apprehensive, so intimately is it 
bound up with my life, and so many years has it taken to write. I began 
to work on it, very soon after Diaghilev’s death, and while still pro- 
foundly affected by that event. Aware how swiftly the memory of even 
the greatest among us fades, and cannot be resuscitated, if there be none 
to record it, I resolved to set down everything I myself remembered of 
Diaghilcv, from the first days to the last. Then, lest I should omit any 
of those vivid fleeting details which seem meaningless alone, but in the 
absence of which I could not hope to evoke him, and again, because they 
might seem out of place in a formal biography, I decided it preferable to 
relate— not Diaghilev’s life— but my own, in so far as it linked with his 
in the years 1923-39, The task then flowed easily, and my Memoirs wrote 
themselves, so to speak, one reminiscence spontaneously evoking another. 
Besides, it was all so recent, so undimmed, and there were my diaries, 
Serge Pavlovitch’s letters to myself, his personal papers, to help my 
memory and prevent possible lapses. 

However, even from the very beginning of my task, certain difiicultics 
made themselves felt, since much of the material involved others, and I 
had resolved neither to weaken the truth, nor even to amend it. Thus, the 
obstacles seemed insuperable, and for a time I relinquished the idea. But 
then, a possible solution presented itself: that of continuing the work, 
but |>astponing publication for half a century. This left me free to 
set down the truth, exactly as it had presented itself to me, sparing neither 
myself nor others, for where individuals are historically important, it is 
my firm conviction that nothing should cither be modified or concealed. 

I therefore continued widi my task, and by 1933 had completed it ac- 
cording to my original conception. Then it was put under seals, and set 
aside for posthumous publication. 

Nevertheless, although the picture of Diaghilev which this version 
presented is both vivid and true, it now seems too personal to me, too 
intensely concentrated on Serge Pavlovitch the individual, rather than on 
his career in the service of the arts, as champion of a new artistic culture 
and aesthetic, founder of The World of Art, and creator of the Russian 
Ballet. 

And here it is of interest to recall that, when others pried curiously into 
his life, Diaghilev would always reply: 

“I, personally, can be of no interest to anyone: it is not my life that 
is interesting, bur my work,” 


V 



PREFACE 


vi 

Thus, the Memoirs to which I refer contained much that dealt with 
Diaghilev personally, but little that dealt with his work; the reason being 
that it had not occurred to me then — so soon after his death — to attempt 
to gauge, or survey, the importance of this lifework. Besides, I was well 
aware how inadequate were my powers to do it justice, and how greatly 
lacking in me was the necessary erudition. 

I therefore waited for such a work to appear from some other hand: 
one which would reconstruct his career, reveal the ideals behind the work, 
and do full justice to perhaps its most remarkable feature, the Russian 
Ballet, though at the same time allowing full significance to all his strenu- 
ous efforts in the dissemination of Russian art — fainting, music, dancing 
— and his revolutionary influence upon the whole of scenic art. 

Time passed, but no such work appeared. Finally, in 1934, inadequate 
though I felt myself to be, I decided to attempt that task myself,^ hoping 
to make publication coincide with the Diaghilev exhibition I was ar- 
ranging for 1939, in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of his death. 
This exhibition was to be held at the Louvre, and though it was to devote 
itself exclusively to one side only of Serge Pavlovitch’s many activities, 
the Russian Ballet, I hoped that my monograph would be valuable in 
collecting and supplementing the scattered material already published, 
embracing as it did the whole of the man’s lifework. Dry though it 
might seem as a compilation of fact, I hoped it would remain as a per- 
manent memorial and tribute. Unfortunately, this somewhat barren rela- 
tion of dry feet was unavoidable, seeing how much had necessarily to 
be compressed into it. Indeed, so manifold, so varied, were Diaghilev’s 
activities, that to describe them in detail would have needed, not one, 
but several volumes. 

It is not for me to say how far I have succeeded in adequately apprais- 
ing what I feel to be most characteristic and distinctive in the man; that 
vision which enabled him to detect artistic genius, to foster and fen it to 
flame; that ability to bring artists together and unite them — often to 
their surprise— in a common achievement, in which he himself played 
the most prominent part. The proof lies in that "Diaghilev imprimatur" 
borne by every venture with which he was connected, and if I can 
bring this home to my reader, I shall consider my task well achieved. 

When this study of Diaghilev was finished, I recognized that it could 
not stand alone. Diaghilev, the inspiration behind so many artistic de- 
velopments, the creator of a new artistic culture, obscures the image of 
Diaghilev, the man. Thus, I had of necessity to revert again to my first 
conception— the Memoirs, and to compose another book which should be 
personal and intimate in character. There would be two works; one 
called Diaghilev; the other With Diaghilev. It was impossible to think of 

1 In the course of my work on this book, various reminiscences dealing with Diaghilev 
saw the light. I have at times made use of some of this material, but do not mention 
it here, since, wherever quoted, I give the reference in the text. 



PREFACE 


Vll 


fusing the two works, for the divergent approach — ^the first a scientific 
monograph, the second a personal account— naturally precluded such a 
treatment. Eventually, however, the problem was solved by juxtaposing 
both within the same volume. But even this task involved a vast amount 
of modification, not so much in eliminating matter which might be con- 
sidered unsuitable by the censor, but in so arranging the contents as to 
make it possible to delete whatever did not dircedy bear on Diaghilcv, 
or bore too directly on third parties. After which it became essential to 
reduce the bulk of the volumes, so that both might be enclosed in the 
same pair of covers. I still hope to publish these Memoirs in toto, at some 
date in the future, but that time is not yet. 

Certain extensive deletions have been necessary for a special reason. I 
refer to Diaghilev’s perpetual quarrels and estrangements | He was a man 
of many, very many, friends, and a man of unique, irresistible charm. 
Nevertheless, a surprising number of these friends became his enemies 
with time, not because of any disappointment in his capacities, but be- 
cause something had happened to instill profound feelings of injury and 
bitterness. 

Diaghilcv loved friends and mankind, and was faithful to that love; 
but individuals were purely episodes in his creative activity, necessary 
at one moment, but nuisances when new horizons, incomprehensible or 
unacceptable to these friends, opened before him. From that moment, 
they ceased to exist for him, and though he in no wise denied his 
ancient friendships or repudiated them, they simply dropped from his 
mind. It was this attitude of his, painful indeed to those who found 
themselves mere episodes in his life’s work, which was found so hard to 
forgive, and which motivated the relentless bitterness of so many of the 
accounts which take him for their subject. Again, others in their jealous 
rage have never forgiven Diaghilcv because he always led, but was never 
led by, them. . . . 

This attitude to others as episodes in his life, must be recognized and 
accepted: but individuals, and whole periods of his life and creative 
activity, stand outside this category— 'his stepmother, for instance, Mme. 
H. V. Panaev-Diaghilev in youth, and Mme. Sert in later life, Non- 
episodic, too, was his creative will! For though its varied manifestations 
may appear episodic, the passionate flame at the core of his unrelenting 
urge to reveal to the world a new creative beauty was not episodic, but 
the innermost heart of the man. 


Serge Lifar 




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

The Author wishes to make grateful acknowledgment for invaluable 
information and extracts which he has drawn and quoted from many 
sources. He is specially indebted to the following: M. Leon Bailby, M. 
Alexandre Benois, M. Robert Brussel in Revue Musicale and Figaro, 
M. G. Calmette in Figaro, Madame Karsavina, M. Pierre Lalo, Madame 
Nijinsky, M. Marcel Prevost, M. Stravinsky and M. J. L. Vaudroyer. All 
those who arc interested in Diaghilev and his period are advised to 
acquaint themselves with the writings of these eminent authorities in the 
original. 

The Author also wishes to thank E. P, Dutton & Company, Jnc., for 
permission to use material from Madame Karsavina’s Theatre Street; 
Greenberg Publisher, Inc., for permission to use material from W. A. 
Propert’s The Russian Ballet; and Simon and Schuster, Inc., for permis- 
sion to use material from Madame Nijinsky’s Nijinsl^. 




CONTENTS 


Preface v 

BOOK I: DIAGHILEV 

PART one: the young DIAGHILEV 
1 . Ancestry 3 

11 . Childhood and Adolescence 10 

in. Preludes to “The World of Art” 27 

PART two: “the world of art” epoch 

IV. “The World of Art” Epoch 51 

V. Exhibitions of “The World of Art” 87 

VI. The Impfjrial Theaters 91 

VII. The Last Years of “The World of Art” 99 

PART three: the RUSSIAN BALLET 

VIII. From “The World of Art" to the Russian Ballet 121 

IX. The First Russian Seasons 158 

X. The Russian Ballet 1912-22 188 

XL The Last Epoch 227 

BOOK II: WITH DIAGHILEV 

I. In the Corps de Ballet 249 

IL Creation of a Dancer 279 

III. Alyosha 297 

IV. The Last Lesson 343 

Appendixes 375 

Index 381 




ILLUSTRATIONS 


Serge Pavlovitch Diaghilev 

frontispiece 
FAcmo yxcE 

Grandfather of Diaghilev 

6 

Pavel Pavlovitch Diaghilev 

14 

Jenia Yevreinov-Diaghilev 

14 

Helena Valerianovna Panaev-Diaghilcv 

14 

Diaghilev as a Baby 

14 

Diaghilev at the hycie 

32 

Dmitri Vladimirovitch Filosofov 

32 

Alexandre N. Bcnois 

32 

V. F. Nouvel 

32 

Diaghilev, by Bakst 

64 

Diaghilev, by Serov 

64 

Two Studies of Diaghilev 

94 

Feodor Chaliapin in Boris Godunov 

X24 

Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Bakst, and a Relative of Diaghilev 

130 

Diaghilev and Misia Sort 

130 

Mathilde Felixovna Kshesinskaya 

136 

Anna Pavlova 

136 

Tamara Platonovna Karsavina 

136 

Olga Spessiva 

136 

Vaslav Nijinsky in Pavilion d'Armide 

144 

Vassili Zuikov 

152 

Lcs Sylphidcs 

160 

PetTOuchka 

160 

Ballet Russe Posters 

166 

Schihirazade 

176 

Pierre Monteux 

184 

Ansermet 

184 

Sir Thomas Beecham 

184 

Desormiires 

xiii 

184 



Xiv ILLUSTRATIONS 

VACXMO 1>A0S 

Claude Etebussy 19* 

Maurice Ravel 192 

Erik Satie 192 

G- Auric 192 

L^on Bakst 198 

Alexandre N. Benois 198 

Larionov 198 

Pablo Picasso 198 

M. M. Fokine 208 

Leonid Massine ao8 

Bronislava Nijinska 208 

Georges Balanchine 208 

Jean Cocteau 214 

Jean Louis Vaudoycr 214 

Boris E. Kokhno 214 

Sachevcrell Sitwell 214 

Igor Stravinsky 222 

Serge Prokofiev 22a 

Constant Lambert 244 

Gerald Tyrwhitt, Lord Berners 

3t44 

Adolf Bolm 26a 

Lydia Sokolova 26a 

Lydia Lopokova 262 

Anton Dolin 262 

Parade 27*, 

Pas d'Acier 

With His Troupe in England 286 

Lifar, Nouvel, and Diaghilcv at Venice 286 

Picasso and Lifar ijojj 

Pavel Georgievitch Koribut-Kubitovitch ^12 

La Chatte, with Lifar 
Lifar in Apollon Musagite 
On the Stage at the Paris Opera 
Le Renard 

Diaghilcv’s Cortiige at Venice 
Diaghilev’s Death Mask 



BOOK I: DIAGHILEV 


PART ONE: THE YOUNG DIAGHILEV 



TO THE 

GLORIOUS MEMORY 
O F 

DI AGHILEV 



CHAPTER I 


ANCESTRY 

The Mask and the Face 

TO THE observer, what was most striking in the mask of Serge Pavlo- 
vitch Diaghilcv, was no doubt its strangeness and mobility, for every 
feature seemed to be endowed with its own vitality, and to speak a 
separate language. And yet that face impressed one as curiously monu- 
mental, and even indestructible, so much health and power did it radiate. 
It reminded one of Peter the Great. Even from a distance there was 
something in the curve of the lips that instantly provoked the same 
comparison. And indeed, Diaghilev himself was proud of this resem- 
blance, accentuated by his clipped mustache, and would boast at times 
that the great Peter’s blood flowed in his veins.^ 

But what seemed to emphasize this monumental impression still more, 
was the extraordinary size of his head, which no ready-made hat would 
fit, and which somehow seemed out of proportion to his body. 

If one refers to his photographs, an odd feeling begins to take pos- 
session of one, a feeling that the man’s face and mask have merged. The 
first impression is of the all-but-immobile mask, but little by little the 
real face begins to show through. 

That mask was exceedingly expressive, so expressive that there were 
times when it actually seemed Diaghilcv’s real face and indeed he him- 
self often gave the impression of having made the same error. 

It was the mask of a Russian aristocrat. There was lethargy, hauteur, 
contempt in it; some snobbishness, a certain degree of squeamish an- 
tipathy to life and its more seamy sides, a gourmet’s studied interest in 
food and wine, the tepid interest of the art patron, who, now and then, 
“manages to find time” to indulge in “artistic” emotion, while prizing 
elegance more than real depth. But even the mask of the patron may 
occasionally split into laughter, and that so infectiously, that it reveals 
how much sound healthy vitality the snob-mask manages to hide. 

But that is not all, for this kind of decadent .snob likes an occasional 
bit of clean honest fun, such as smashing glasses at rowdy parties; and 
an occasional rage when the chairs and tables fly through the air, for 
none may thwart his domineering, autocratic almightiness, which admits 
no higher authority than itself. Nor is he averse to some small philoso- 

^Hi* grandmother, Khitrovo, belonged to the famous family of the Rumian^mvs. The 
family ,tra<lidon had it that one of Rumian»ov*s son*, he being then one of Peter the 
Great's orderlies, bore a striking resemblance to the Tsar. Diaghilev’a mother was a 
Yevreinov. (]^.) 


3 



4 SERGE DIAGKtIUEV 

phizings at times, on elevated subjects, since he rather admires intellec- 
tuality, provided no one takes it too seriously. So fearing to live, he 
lives in shackles. 

Yet the longer one looks, the clearer his real face shines through. 

First, with a smile, or rather a quivering of the muscles round the 
harsh lips, so reminiscent of Peter the Great, and in that smile are kind- 
ness, softness, unbelievable warmth. This ghost of a smile, Diaghilcv’S 
“charm,” is what one sees first, interpreting it as kindness to others. It 
seems to be saying how helpless its owner must be in practical matters!, 
how utterly defenseless a man must be to smile in a fashit)n so charm- 
ingly childish, so virginally tender; and it is just that smile which 
charms and conquers and draws your eyes to his face, so that you see it 
at last. 

Thereupon, one becomes conscious of Diaghilev’s eyes, their sacred 
melancholy, their sacred torment, their Quest for the Holy City, their 
memory of a distant heaven, and their search for a new. 

All these things were to be discovered in Diaghilev’s eyes: tenderness, 
kindness and, least expected of all, sentimentalism. 

Through the mask and the face, the true image of Diaghilcv appeared. 

Dtaghilev Heriiage 

In the mask and face of Serge Pavlovitch Diaghilcv, that first and last 
of his line, a shoot which gave no scion, we find many of the qualities 
which I shall call “diaghilevism.” To us Diaghilcv, diaghilcvism, stand 
for one man and one man only. Serge Pavlovitch, one of those men by 
whose efforts “was put in motion our land.” Russian history needs no 
other Diaghilev, save only his aunt, Anna Pavlovna,® perhaps the most 
prominent social worker of the nineteenth century. 

But to supply an answer to S. I. Mamontov, when, meetiitg Scriozha * 
Diaghilev in 1896, he asked; “From what soil has this mushrexjm 
sprung?” we must refer, not to Diaghilev, but to the Diaghilcvs, whose 
family chronicler * soon makes clear that S. P. Diaghilev inherited his 
full share of the Diaghilev patrimony. 

They,” she says, “men, women and children, handsome or plain, all 
manifestly belong to the same strain, all have the same distinguishing 
traits. 

First and foremost of these is the mouth. However charming, how- 
ever ugly, it is always a variant of one basic conformation: the lower lip 
is always plump and sensuous. 

Next the hair and the way it springs from the scalp. Always thick 
and lustrous, though ranging from palest gold to raven black through 

* Married Hlosofov. (Ed.) 

® Diminutive of Serge. (Ed.) 

®Mme. Panaev-Diaffhilev, S. P. Diashilcv’* foater-mother. (Eti.) 



ANCESTRY 5 

every intermediary shade, always it frames the forehead in the same way. 

“Then, despite an inherent cheerfulness, the family eye is characteristic, 
for whether blue, hazel, black, green, and whatever the shape may be, 
the same sad expression is characteristic of them all. 

“An inclination to embonpoint in middle life — an embonpoint dis- 
tinctly Russian, though in varying degrees — is also one of the family 
characteristics. 

“All these factors, and a host of other barely noticeable traits, give 
them an air de jamille, which makes them recognizable, wherever they 
may be. It is not of the kind which makes one brother the double of the 
other — ^they were never mistaken for each other — ^but frequently, in some 
drawing room, or railway carriage, no matter where, a friend or ac- 
quaintance of one member of the family would approach another whom 
he had never seen in his life, with the words: ‘A Diaghilev, I presume?’ 

“Another characteristic, no less striking, was a certain natural gaiety 
which made them seem at home wherever they might be. To which 
must be added a certain oddity of speech, often found in members of 
large families, who invent a private language of their own, and thus 
form a sort of secret society.” 

In addition to these family traits common to all the Diaghilevs, Serge 
Pavlovitch had much that seemed directly inherited from his father and 
grandfather. And, just as his real face would materialize from the mask, 
so through the father, and behind the father— -who had much in common 
with his brilliant son — it was possible to feel and visualize Serge Pav- 
lovitch’s grandfather, Pavel Dmitrievitch Diaghilev. 

His father we know of as one of the adornments of the Imperial 
Household Guards, handsome, witty, easy-going, cheerful; of average 
learning and intellect, a good friend, a man of the world, active and 
interested in many things, with a gentleman’s psychology which made 
him impatient of “cursed problems” or “life’s mysteries,” a man essen- 
tially forthright in all his responses. 

Gifted with an excellent tenor voice, he was also an accomplished 
musician, and had, as a young officer, studied under the famous Czech 
Rotkovsky. Drawing-room ballads, gypsy songs, serious music, all came 
alike to him, and helped him to become a fashionable heartbreaker. 
Wherever he went, he was always welcome. At balls and restaurants, 
in the drawing room or at home, his gaiety and good spirits were pro- 
verbial. 

Many of these traits were inherited by his son, Diaghilev — ^his mask- 
face, in addition to other qualities which this easygoing cheerful Guardec 
owed to his own father, a man of highly complex, interesting and original 
personality. Passionate, impetuous, with no bounds to his enthusiasms, 
before the moral crisis which overtook him in 1855, at forty-seven, 
Diaghilev’s grandfather combined in himself an intense emotivity and 
passionate adoration of life, with an ascetic’s yearnings, and was at one 



6 SERGE DIAGHIUEV 

and the same time, part sybarite and epicure, part monk and scatter- 
brain. For so, his chief at the Treasury, Count Kiselev, once called 
him, on account of his refractory, unsettled temperament. 

Pavel Dmitrievitch, his grandson P. G, Koribut-Kubitovitch tells us, 
“was an unusual man.” Descended from an old family of Moscow gentry, 
he passed into the army by way of the St. Petersburg School of Military 
Engineering, but resigned his commission after a short period of service, 
to take up a position in the Ministry of State Domains under the famous 
Count Kiselev, only, however, to abandon it shortly owing to a trivial 
difference of opinion. Like his grandson, he found discipline intolerable. 

At that period, he was exceedingly high-spirited, a first-rate executant 
on the piano, and proud of having studied under the then famous Field. 
He was also married, on excellent terms with his wife, and the father 
of eight children. 

In 1850, however, he moved from the city, to settle in the province of 
Perm, where his father had left him an important estate. 

This estate, “Bikbarda” of about 15,000 desyatin (some 40,000 acres), 
was situated partly in the Osinsk district of Perm province, and partly 
in the neighboring Birsk district of the province of Ufa, a large house 
being attached to each property, while in addition each part of the estate 
boasted a distillery. 

Another item in his inheritance was a mansion of some thirty rooms, 
complete with lodge, garden, stables, ice-cellars, etc., in the main thor- 
oughfare of Perm, capital of the province. But though he made his estate 
his home for six months of the year, the family remained in St. Peters- 
burg for the education of the children, living in a large house on 
Furstadskaya Street, only the first two floors of which it occupied. 

That he was broad-minded and of liberal views is proved by the fact 
that, disliking the idea of possessing serfs, he took care only to employ 
hired labor in his town house. It appears too that in his treatment of his 
peasant serfs he was always a kind and humane master. 

It was natural, therefore, that with the reforms introduccti by Alex- 
ander II, Pavel Dmitrievitch should be elected by the landowners of 
Perm province, to represent them on the famous committee for the lib- 
eration of the serfs, which was then sitting in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, 
having an excellent head for business, his affairs and distilleries pros- 
pered, so that soon, from enjoying a modest com|)ctcnce, he became 
exceedingly wealthy. 

Nevertheless, the richer Pavel Dmitrievitch became, the les.s store <lid 
he seem to set by his wealth and worldly possessions. And now he l>egan 
to frequent the monks, those monks whom his wife accused <jf being 
responsible for the change which began to take place in him. 

“It was they,” she said, “who put into his head the idea of renouncing 
all his earthly possessions. He, poor man, cannot reconcile himself to it 
at all, you can see that by the way he’s struggling with himself, for say 




Cinuitll’;uhc-r (if Diaghikv 





ANCESTRY 


7 

what you will, he has a kind and loving heart.” However, a different 
and far more convincing explanation of the change that was taking 
place in him, is provided by the reminiscences of H. V. Panaev-Diaghilev, 
when she writes: 

“Anna Ivanovna, Pavel Dmitrievitch’s wife, considered that the fol- 
lowing incident which occurred, as she puts it herself, *in the year 
Nonochka was married’ (Nonochka being their eldest daughter Anna, 
who in 1855 married Vladimir Dmitrievitch Filosofov, one of the best 
men alive), was what inaugurated the family drama. 

*‘It all happened in Peterhof. They had just rented a splendid big villa 
which formerly belonged to Rubinstein, and which still exists. There, 
the whole family migrated for the summer, including the young Filosofov 
couple, and their new-born baby Julinka. In addition to the nine Diaghilev 
children, dierc were also five Buickov children (the orphans of an elder 
sister of Anna Ivanovna’s, adopted by Pavel Dmitrievitch) and the two 
half-grown sons of Count Fedor Petrovitch Litke, first cousins to Anna 
Ivanovna. 

“Tutors, governesses and nurses added to the tale of the great gath- 
ering, and made innumerable mouths to feed, a fact on which Anna 
Ivanovna strongly insisted in telling the story, to give some idea of the 
difficult position in which she found herself, when Pavel Dmitrievitch, 
having gone to the Treasury for money one fine morning, failed to 
return, either that day, or the next three. Knowing that he had meant 
to collect a rather large sum, she began to fear he had been robbed or 
even murdered. 

“She waited a bit longer, and then, as he still did not put in an appear- 
ance and there was no news of him, decided the matter needed looking 
into, and went off to St. Petersburg, no mean expedition in those days. 
There, the dvomi\ ® of her town house informed her that the master 
had indeed been home, but that after a visit from a lame, redheaded 
monk, both had set off for an unknown destination. 

“Not for a fortnight did Pavel Dmitrievitch return to Peterhof, and 
then he arrived pale, gloomy, obviously thinner, and without a penny 
piece in his pockets. Nor was it possible to make him disclose where he 
had been. 

“We may assume that this episode indicated a crisis in Pavel Dmitrie- 
vitch’s relations with his family, but that it should have initiated the 
ensuing drama seems to me exceedingly dubious. On the contrary, I 
should say that it marked the conclusion of, and resolved, an earlier 
hidden period of great stress and torment. It seems difficult to believe 
that this escapade could have been the result of a premeditated impulse. 

“Some time later he fell ill, and began to behave in a way that was 
very abnormal. One symptom was his refusal to see anybody, even his chil- 

® Yard porter. (Ed.) 



8 SERGE DIAGHIUBV 

dren, the one exception being his wife. Anna Ivanovna told me 
that this was a terrible time, for whole days would be spent wandering 
through the streets of St. Petersburg, and the nights in endless pacings 
about the bedroom, to the interminable strains of the mechanical organ, 
which we all knew so well from the ballroom at Bikbarda, At times, 
these paroxysms brought him very near to frenzy. At other times, she 
would find him oblivious, stretched out before the holy icons, like one 
crucified. Again, there were times when he would attempt to swallow 
mother-of-pearl Jerusalem crosses, broken up small, which she only just 
managed to puU out of his mouth. 

“This very bad period did not last long, but it left indelible traces. 
The ancient, portly Pavel Dmitrievitch, sybaritic, gay and devoted to 
music, receptions, the theater and masked balls, had vanished as com- 
pletely as though he had never existed. In his place a new man appeared 
— the ascetic: and to this ascetic, Anna Ivanovna was unable to reconcile 
herself, even to the end of his days. With the vehemence and pride 
which distinguished everything she did, she now began to oppose, and 
passionately resist^ his new way of life. Nevertheless, his own determina- 
tion was as passionate and stubborn, with the result that neither would 
make the least concession. 

“As if to make things worse, money problems, as often happens, 
began to crop up. As I see it, the steadily increasing family income helped 
to provide ever-new reasons for discord, for as a result, Pavel Dmitrievitch 
was enabled to donate enormous sums to the monasteries (I believe there 
was hardly one which was not so favored), for the building of churches 
and the endowment of religious hostelries: and in short, to hand out 
money, right and left. 

“All this made Mama furiously angry. One could not have called her 
mean. True, she was economical where small things were concerned, 
but that to my mind is often the sign of a liberal disposition, and this 
she certainly had in larger matters, however much she might have been 
astonished had anyone dared to tell her so. What made her so furious 
was not the amounts that were lavished — she herself spent huge sums 
freely — ^but the causes on which they were spent. The result was that 
the clergy became an absolute nightmare to her, the object of a raging 
hatred, because certain of its members were not above turning Pavel 
Dmitrievitch’s religious exaltation to their own advantage. 

“The following story well illustrates how intense was her feeling on 
this subject. It was their custom to attend divine service together, accom- 
panied by the rest of their family, in the Cathedral of St. Sergius on 
the Liteinaya. One Sunday, as they were standing side by side and the 
offertory was made, Pavel Dmitrievitch put a bank note for a thousand 
rubles into the plate. Whereupon, without a moment’s hesitation, Anna 
Ivanovna removed the note from the plate and placed it in her pocket. 



ANCESTRY 


9 

leaving one ruble in its stead,® declaring meanwhile to her husband that 
she would go to the Metropolitan, tell him the whole story, and ask 
whether it was right for a God-fearing man so to despoil his own 
children.” 

When his grandfather died in 1883, Serge Pavlovitch was eleven, and 
vividly recollected his grandmother, Anna Ivanovna. How odd it is to 
recognize, in these portraits drawn by H. V. Panaev-Diaghilev, which 
cover the early part of Pavd Pavlovitch’s life, the numerous traits that 
bring Diaghilev himself to one’s mind. 

This, therefore, was the Diaghilev soil from which that mushroom, 
Serge Pavlovitch Diaghilev sprang. Though of the same genus, he was 
whoUy distinct, with traits we find in no other Diaghilev. 

® P. G. Koribut-Kubitovitsh told me it was not a “thousand-ruble note” (they did not 
exist then), but a large wad of one hundred ruble notes to the value of 5,000 rubles. 



CHAPTER 11 


CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE 

The Birth of S. P. Diaghilev 

DIAGHILEV WAS bom in the Selistchev barracks (province of Nov- 
gorod) on Idarch 19th, 1872. 

These barracks were situated on Count Arakchyev’s historically famous 
estate, “Gmsino,” on the banks of the river Volkhov, and it was there 
that Diaghilev’s father had been posted by his regiment for a year, and 
had taken his young wife. As the confinement drew near, they were 
joined by his favorite sister, Maria Pavlovna Koribut-Kubitovitch, some 
seven years his senior, widowed but two months before, and left with 
three children. Thanks to the regimental doctor, and Maria Pavlovna’s 
assistance, the baby was safely delivered, in spite of an excessively dif- 
ficult labor, due to the unusual size of the baby’s head; but a few days 
later Mme. Diaghilev died in the arms of her sister-in-law. 

“I remember,” so writes Diaghilev’s youngest aunt, J. P, Parensov, 
“how, when I had just left the Institute,^ a great sorrow suddenly over- 
whelmed us; for we heard that Jenia had died in childbed. I remember 
how impressed I was by Mama’s grief, the fuss and worry about getting 
mourning, our hurried departure for the Selistchev barracks. When we 
arrived, there was Jenia on the table, little Seriozha in an adjoining 
room crying, and Polushka completely overwhelmed by his grief (he 
was twenty-five at the time). I remember how sympathetic all the 
young people in the barracks were, how we all, and a great number of 
ojffiicers, followed the coffin down to the River Volkhov, to put her on a 
steamer for Kuzmino, where the funeral was to take place. All the time, 
litde Seriozha was unconcernedly asleep in his nurse Dunia’s arms, with 
young, handsome Alexandra Maximovna, Jenia’s maid, standing by in 
case of need. We all became very fond of Seriozha and treated him 
with the utmost kindness. 

“Then we held a family council, at which it was decided that the two 
orphaned families shotild be united, and soon after, Pavel Pavlovitch 
was gazetted Squadron Commander in the Chevaliers-Gardes, with 
handsome quarters in St. Petersburg, at the barracks in Shpalcrnaya 
Street. 

1 A high school for the daughters of noblemca modeled on the French convent school. 
(Ed.) 


10 



CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE 


II 


The Nanny T>unia 

“I remember,” says P. G. Koribut-Kubitovitch, sixty-six years later 
(he was six years and six months older than Serge Pavlovitch), “how, 
sometime in spring, they brought us the fair-haired, dark-eyed Seriozha; 
and how I began to look him over as he lay in the arms of his magnifi- 
cent, red-haired wet nurse, while nanny Dunia, in the typical white- 
pleated cap worn by all nurses of good families in those days, stood 
beside. Then our nanny, Avdotia Adrianovna, wearing a similar cap, 
began lovingly to fondle the newcomer, an orphan from the very first 
days of his life.” 

Born a domestic serf into the Yevreinov family, nanny Dunia had 
brought up Seriozha’s mother, and when she married, accompanied her, 
so to speak, as part of her mistress’s dowry. Faithful, loving and beloved, 
she spent the whole of her long life, which reached into extreme old 
age, with only two families, the Yevreinovs and Diaghilevs. In addition 
she looked after Serge’s two half-brothers, Valentine and Yuri, his 
father’s sons by his stepmother Elena Valerianova Diaghilev. (Serge 
Pavlovitch had a great fondness for his half-brothers, and in particular 
Yuri.) Dunia represented a type of nurse which has now vanished en- 
tirely — a type we find exemplified in Pushkin’s Arina Rodionovna — 
and Serge’s whole life, down to 1912, was closely linked with hers. 

When, as an undergraduate, Diaghilev moved from the Filosofovs’ 
apartment to his own flat in Galernaya Street, it was nanny Dunia who 
came from Perm to look after him. When, founding The World of 
Art, Diaghilev took a large apartment at 45 Liteiny Prospect, two of 
the rooms of which were reserved as editorial oflEces, nanny Dunia fol- 
lowed him there. All Seriozha’s friends and collaborators knew her well. 
In his well-known portrait by Bakst, she is there to be seen in the back- 
ground: and, at the gatherings of the editorial staff, and the famous 
World of Art Mondays that were held during the winter, nanny Dunia, 
wearing a black lace cap, would preside over the samovar in the big 
dining room; no light task, when thirty to forty guests were assembled 
for tea. 

P. P. Diaghilev’ s Second Marriage and Life in St. Fetersbttrg 

Seriozha did not long remain with the Koribut-Kubitovitchs, for his 
father, having lived down his despair, in 1874, two years after his wife’s 
death, married Helena Panaev. Though the Diaghilev family had adored 
Seriozha’s mother, and grieved sincerely at her death, a time came when 
they grew even fonder of the stepmother, a woman admirably suited 
to the Diaghilev family, who, attaching herself to them all, with the 
whole warmth of a generous heart, soon merged her interests com- 
pletely in theirs. Clever, generous and warm-hearted, it was not long 



12 


SERGE DIAGHILEV 


before all the Diaghilevs were at her feet. According to Serge Pavlo- 
vitch, there was no better woman in the world. 

iThere is little need to enlarge on her feelings towards her new fam- 
ily; indeed, nothing coxild be added to the testimony she herself pro- 
vides in her memoirs, extracts from which we have already quoted, and 
from which we now quote again, providing as they do, sure and reliable, 
vivid and interesting testimony to the conditions surrounding the life 
of the young Diaghilev. 

Comfortable and easy with others, they were comfortable and easy 
with her, for she seemed to possess in the highest degree the art of creat- 
ing a comfortable, homelike interior. So Serge Pavlovitch found it, 
whether in St. Petersburg, or Bikbarda, where his childhood and 
adolescence were spent. 

We can reconstruct Diaghilev’s life in St. Petersburg from what has 
been told us by D. V. Filosofov. 

“Helena Valerianovna never had, and never could have had what is 
called a salon mondain, with all the conventionalities one is accustomed 
to attach to that sort of function. But not because she was unsociable. 

On the contrary, the door of her house always stood wide open to guests. 

But she made her acquaintances in an entirely different, *non-rfido«/ 
spirit. She never tried to sort out people according to their usefulness, 
or reputation; she never ran after people, and as a result, everybody 
who came to the house became an intimate. Her husband’s regiment, the 
Diaghilev and Panaev families, provided the extensive circle from which 
her many and various intimate friends were drawn. And it all happened 
quite naturally, as if by itself. To society folk — ^in the narrow sense of the 
word — ^to the special St. Petersburg type of them, in a word to all those 
who used their social connections for advancement in their careers, or 
for making useful friends, Helena Valerianovna's house was no good 
at all, and even a place that was rather boring. Nor did the hosts them- 
selves do anything to attract this alien, unsuitable element, for they had 
no time for tiresome guests or guests who needed entertaining. But 
those who felt at home in the Diaghilev house, soon became constant i J 
visitors. ) 

Music in DiaghilcT/s Life 

“Sometimes, at her Thursdays, whole operas would be performed in 
amateur fashion, hfuch later, when those *lovely days of Aranjuez’ were 
over, 1 myself, late in the ’90’s, would sometimes hear a quartet from 
Bigoletto or A Life for the Tsar, executed by family forces. All the 
Diaghilevs were musical, but their interest was dilettante in comparison 
with the natural musical talent presented by the Panaevs. A good deal of 
information, from many sources, is available about the musical interests 
of the Diaghilevs. We learn, for instance, that ‘Polushka,’ Diaghilev’s 
father, knew the whole of Glinka’s opera, Russian and Ludmila, by 


V? 



Main 


CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE 1 3 

heart, besides others. ... In her own recxjllections, Diaghilev’s stepmother 
lays emphasis on their unusual enthusiasm and talent for music, and the 
way in which all the Diaghilevs seemed to breathe music like the very 
air. In her descriptions of Bikbarda, she writes . . . ‘The sound of a piano 
rings out from the ballroom. All talk, shouting, laughter, movement 
dies away — everyone hurries to a seat; even the children arrive on 
tiptoe and sit quietly, and a silence reigns which seemed inconceivable 
even a moment before. Everyone has become all ears. . . . This famil y 
of musicians, in which even the smallest boys whisde a Schumann quintet 
or Beethoven symphony as they stroll about, is starting its ritual . . .’ 

“Among these boys, Seriozha’s passion for music was especially marked. 
Greedily he absorbed everything that he heard, and was deeply afEected 
by it. He had a really enthusiastic cult for Tchaikovsky, many of whose 
songs had long been familiar to him through hearing them sung by his 
stepaunt, A. V. Panaev-Kartsov. She sang Tchaikovsky’s songs with 
great skill and understanding. Tchaikovsky himself highly esteemed the 
manner in which she rendered his songs. Strange as it seems now, in the 
latter part of the ’8o’s, Tchaikovsky was far from enjoying any real popu- 
larity, and Mme. Panaev-Kartsov’s efforts contributed greatly to his future 
success. I believe that the famous song Den li Tsarit was written espe- 
cially for her. All his life, Diaghilev remembered how, as a child, he had 
visited ‘Uncle Petia’ in Klin, and it was always a pleasure to him to 
recall his connection with Tchaikovsky, and speak of him as ‘Uncle 
' Petia.’ This, too, may have encouraged his cult for the composer, but 
the main reason for his infatuation, his quite extraordinary infatuation 
for Tchaikovsky, lay no doubt in the deeply absorbing and emotional 
'' qualities of the master’s music. Diaghilev also met Mussorgsky in child- 
ly hood. That composer, barely known at the time, played his aunt’s ac- 
^ companiments at the piano. 

“Seriozha, like all the Diaghilevs, and this ingenuousness was perhaps 
the most striking and significant feature of their natures, never pondered 
. .whether the music was good music or bad music, never asked himself 
'^was he to like or dislike it, and for this or that reason, or whether a 
C\ particular enthusiasm were praiseworthy or not. Diaghilev, like all the 
Diaghilevs, reacted to music, to all art in fact, with his entrails, emotion- 
ally, even sentimentally. In later life, he was often to become the prey 
of a conflict between his intellectual concept of what a work of art should 
be, and what he jelt it should be. But at other times this inner self would 
lead him infallibly along the path of true art, and that, even intellectually.” 

Indeed, it would seem that so profound was the effect which Tchai- 
kovsky’s music had had on his soul, so deeply rooted in him was this 
first musical love and the emotional concepts with which it was linked, 
that, strive as he might in subsequent years to sever his allegiance, the 
effort was always foredoomed to failure. 

Later, and even in the last London article, dated 1929, Diaghilev was 



14 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

to up the cudgels “against the cult of Gounod, Tchaikovsky and 
Donizetti,” who “inflicted both melody and simplicity upon us, and 
made “poor music seem merely banal.” Yet, less than three weeks before 
his death, he was listening to Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, and at the 
end, when all false and transitory things had fallen away, and all that 
was real and true in him rose up again with renewed power, in those 
last days, on the brink of eternity, he was recalling Tchaikovsky’s melo- 
dies, those slow and long-drawn Russian melodies, with tears; and, over- 
come with emotion, would hum the Symphonic PathStique to himself, 
and then say that in all music nothing could vie with the Sixth Symphony, 
The Meister singers, and Tristan. And this though Diaghilev, in the years 
of apostolic servitude to new and modern forms, had come to consider 
that second god of his, the god he had learned to love so passionately in 
a^lescence, to be the evil genius of the music of the nineteenth century. 

I have lingered so long on Diaghilev’s emotional responses to music 
through the entrails, because so much in him was linked with it. The 
same might be said of his responses to literature and painting. His 
environment during childhood was an environment where painting and 
literature, loved and cherished, made part of the family background. 
“The words of Turgeniev, Tolstoy, and Gogol in particular, hovered 
about us like old beloved friends.” Though the family approach was 
to some extent dilettante, nevertheless it was understanding, and this, 
combined with an unusually powerful innate artistic sense, provided the 
boy with a compendious cultural and artistic baggage. There were no 
professional artists or workers in the arts to be found among the Dia- 
ghilevs, and yet this culture was in no wise abstract, mental or “intel- 
lectual.” The Diaghilevs (and Diaghilev) loved the arts, and busied 
themselves with the arts, not with the routine connected with the arts. 

It was this sort of enlightened dilettantism, which so much influenced 
Diaghilev, if not the Diaghilev of the Russian ballet, certainly that of 
The World of Art, in which, in 1900, he wrote: 

“I hardly think many people would be found nowadays prepared to 
discuss the superiority of classical forms of art over the naturalistic, 
or vice versa. Modern workers in the art do not dazzle themselves with 
the task of propagating coUte que coUte the ‘one true’ vision, as it was 
seen twenty to twenty-five years ago. All trends have the same right to 
exist, for the value of a work of art does not in the least depend on its 
trend. Because a Rembrandt is fine, that does not mean that a Fra 
Angelico becomes any better or worse.” 

Life in Perm and BiJ{barda 

In 1882, when Serge Pavlovitch was ten, the Diaghilevs removed their 
household to Perm, and P. G. Koribut-Kubitovitch has kindly provided 
me with the details. 




Helena Valerianovna Panaev- 
Diaghilev 

Stepmother o£ Diaghilev 


Diaghilev as a Baby 
with His Father 




CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE I5 

“Pavel Pavlovitch Diaghilev remained in his regiment until he was 
gazetted ( 3 oloncl, and would probably soon have taken command of a 
cavalry regiment, but just at this time, his creditors began to press him 
seriously, his debts having by now amounted to a sum considered par- 
ticularly large in those days (some 200,000 rubles). This sum was chiefly 
owed to the moneylenders, who exacted extortionate interest, and when 
bills fell due for renewal, would almost double the original amount. 
When the news was broken to his father, Pavel Dmitrievitch agreed 
to clear his son’s debts, but only on condition that he resigned from 
the brilliant Chevaliers-Gardes and moved to Perm, where he and his 
family could live comfortably and cheaply in a large, well-run house. 
In this house the grandfather now lived alone, save for a bachelor son. 
The daughters had all married, and were now established in St. Peters- 
burg — as was their mother, to be near them. The eldest son lived at 
Bikbarda, where he was a justice of the peace, and his two sons attended 
the local high school. In the summer, however, all the members of the 
family would gather in Bikbarda, together with offspring, governesses 
and nurses; and then, in the autumn, the whole family would disperse, 
and the grandfather would be left alone in his great stone house. Thus, 
the arrival of his son, with a wife whom Pavel Dmitrievitch respected 
highly, and their three sons. Serge, Valentine and Yuri greatly altered 
his life and introduced a certain excitement. 

“Fortunately for Diaghilev’s father, the commanding officer of the 
Reserve Infantry Battalion stationed in Perm happened to be removed 
elsewhere, and by dint of using his connections, he managed to get 
himself gazetted to the vacant position. This was a great stroke of luck, 
even though it meant something of a descent, for with no knowledge 
of agriculture, or any interest in it, he would otherwise have been doomed 
to complete inactivity. 

“The Diaghilevs therefore started on their long journey from St. 
Petersburg. In those days neither Perm nor Kazan were on the railway 
line, and it was necessary to alight at Nijni-Novgorod, then travel down 
the Volga on a Lubimov steamer for four days, and at Kazan branch 
off into the Kama River. To the children, the whole journey was a 
delightful, exciting adventure. All his life Diaghilev remembered the 
lovely banks of these rivers, their hills, their forests, their vast plains 
and pastures, the old villages, the small provincial towns, and the ancient 
Nijni-Novgorod and Kazan. 

“To the grandfather, it was a great delight to see the huge house fill 
and become alive, and no longer feel overawed by the immense dining 
room capable of seating some sixty people. A new life began for him, 
cheerful and gay; with plenty of music, books and conversation. Cards 
were never seen in the Diaghilev house, no one ever played whist or 
preference, but art and literature were always welcome. Barely a year 
was out before the house had become the center of the town’s artistic 



1 6 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

activities. To be admitted to the house was considered an honor to which 
all the neighbors aspired. Little by little a musical circle was formed, 
its nucleus being Seriozha’s father and stepmother, who both sang beau- 
tifully, and Uncle Vanya, who, from childhood, had studied under the 
best St. Petersburg teachers, and was an excellent executant on both the 
piano and ’cello. Two or three times a year a charity concert would be 
given by this circle in the Assembly Rooms of the Nobility. Soon, a 
small amateur orchestra organized itself, again conducted by Uncle 
Vainya, and during rehearsals in the big drawing room, Seriozha would be 
permitted to sit up till ten. He was also allowed to sit up when Uncle 
Vanya and Danemark played pieces for four hands from Mozart, 
Beethoven, Haydn, etc., on a splendid Bechstein. This Danemark taught 
German in the Perm classical high school, but was also a distinguished 
musician, who was soon teaching Seriozha music. A strict and exacting 
teacher, he supervised all Diaghilev’s music until he left school. Aunt 
Helena, Serge’s stepmother, read aloud beautifully, and once or twice 
a week there would be a literary evening. 

“On the dining-room walls, and in grandfather’s huge study, hung 
large old prints of works by Rembrandt, Raphael, etc., and the bookcase 
contained magnificent illustrated works devoted to famous collections 
and the museums of Munich, Florence, Paris and other great cities. 
These Serge was allowed to handle in his grandfather’s presence; and 
thusj at an early age, was already familiar with the names and works 
of many great artists. 

“At this time, too, he was kept very busy with his lessons in music, 
French and German, though to the latter he proved particularly re- 
calcitrant.” 

For this period of his life we must once again turn to the memoirs 
of H. V. Panaev-Diaghilev, and her description of the family life and 
countryside of Bikbarda. It is difficult to say what influence most pro- 
foundly afiected the growing Diaghilev, but one thing may be asserted 
with confidence, namely, that if Diaghilev, thanks to an essentially 
direct and candid nature, was but little inclined towards childish mus- 
ings and philosophizings, there was nothing in the way life was lived 
at Bikbarda, to encourage any such tendency. 

“Never and nowhere, except in imagination,” she writes, “did I ever 
see a veranda like ours at Bikbarda. Real terraces of earth and stone, 
flower beds and spurting fountains, may of course have been bigger, 

wider, and perhaps finer But ours was just a plain Russian wooden 

veranda, with pillars and a roof, that stretched along the whole south- 
ern wing of the one-storied timber house, and even beyond, seeing that 
it ended in a big loggia, which projected past the corner of the house 
and ran out over the garden gate, and alongside the road bordering a 
ravine. Beyond this hollow were the distillery, the village and a forest 
that seemed to stretch illimitable as the sea, Here on this loggia, we would 



CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE 1 7 

generally sit to take tea, as we watched the sun slowly setting In 

stummer, part of the loggia would be used for meals, and could easily 
accommodate some fifty people. On the balcony itself, near the loggia, 
numbers of sofas and old shiny chintz-covered stools were arranged, 
while the wall at the back was almost completely obliterated by a living 
screen of plants and creepers. Along the balustrade, and between the 
pillars, stretched rows of variegated summer flowers in boxes, and the 
big garden trees and their foliage made a kind of bower of the place. 

“The descendants of the owners of Bikbarda consisted of four sons 
and four daughters; and these, with their wives, husbands and children, 
altogether totaled some fifty souls. Let us picture an occasion when, 
as frequendy happened, all, or nearly all, were present. The characters 
are the Diaghilevs, and some total stranger, just arrived, for the first 
time, let us say, on business. He is asked to stay ... he agrees . . . and 
the party moves off to our dear Bikbarda veranda. As they proceed, 
there comes a drone of voices and peals of merry laughter, which goes 
on increasing until the bewildered guest suddenly finds himself in the 
midst of a noisy, irrepressibly gay crowd. Fashionably dressed women, 
children, oflGicers, students, schoolboys, hurry to and fro, or busde hither 
and thither, to the sound of loud kisses on every side. 

“Astonished, he attempts to discover the source of such merriment. Is it 
a wedding, an anniversary, a baptism, someone’s return from a distant 
journey, or some other occasion for rejoicing, of which he knows nothing? 
Meanwhile, he confounds himself in apologies for his unsuitable clothes, 
or explains he had not expected to interrupt some family celebration, or 
break in on the assembled guests. 

“Laughingly, they explain that nothing unusual is on foot, that it is 
just an ordinary day, that he is the only guest, and that all are members 
of the family. 

“Perplexed, he draws apart to be out of the way of some young officer 
galloping astride a chair, or a tall man in mufti, frantically conducting 
an imaginary orchestra, miming every instrument to perfection, and 
singing the overture with faultless accuracy. Next, the stranger finds him- 
self darting aside, for a covey of children dashes past like an avalanche 
from the mountains, and makes for the garden, where it disperses in all 
directions to play at expresses, or rushing troikas as the drivers shout 
in Tartar fashion — Aititama-a! 

“Abashed, the guest begins to throw anxious glances round him, and 
strives to catch what people are saying, though not one word does he 
understand, even though they seem to be talking Russian. His head 
almost bursting with the effort, as watching his hosts, he mutters 
to himself, ‘Madness, nonsense, sheer insanity.’ 

“Almost everyone who later became the friend, or as often happened, 
the enthusiastic admirer of the family, went through some such similar 
phase at their first meeting with the Diaghilev family en masser 



SERGE DIAGHBLEV 


l8 


Diaghilet^s Love of Scenery 

Immensely significant for his latter life, was to be the fact that Diag- 
hilev had been reared, not in St. Petersburg or Moscow, but in Bikbarda; 
indeed, aU his approaches and reactions to art were profoundly condi- 
tioned by this fact. There he lived surrounded by all that was Russia, 
there he learned to love the simple Russian landscape, and the banks 
of the Kama and Volga, for the memory of his trip down the Volga to 
the Caucasus, was to remain all through his life an abiding memory. 
There, too, he learned to love everything Russian, and it was that im- 
mense, whole-hearted, anxious love, which in a great measure determined 
not only the artistic bias, but the artistic predilections of the later Diag- 
hilev, founder and editor of The World of Art. 

Diaghilev was considered, and still is considered, a snob and cosmopoli- 
tan aesthete. And it is true that he was indeed both these things, while 
being receptive to all forms of art, and able to accord them all his admira- 
tion and enthusiasm. But the foundation of his love for art, was his love 
of Russian scenery, whereas any tendency towards a national or na- 
tionalistic Russian art, left him indifferent or hostile, as did everything 
that was narrow and artificial. This can be seen in the way he took up 
arms against “pseudo-Berendeis” ® and “Stenka Razins” and in his claim 
that nothing could prove more harmful to an artist’s integrity than a 
nationalist bias. Nevertheless, he was capable of writing, “The only admissi- 
ble nationalism is the unconscious nationalism of the blood. This is a 
rare and valuable treasure. But it must be one’s very nature that is na- 
tionalist, which — even, it may sometimes be, against one’s will [as actually 
happened in Diaghilev’s case] — automatically and eternally reflects the 
fires of a fundamental nationalism. Nationalism can only be an integral 
part of oneself; one must be, as it were, a noble scion in whom the pure 
blood of one’s nation still flows. Then its value is real, incalculable, I 
may say.” 

Diaghilev the aesthete, could admire Aubrey Beardsley, but his true 
love was reserved for Levitan, Maliutin, and Mashenka Yakunchikova. 
As soon as he speaks of his favorite artists, how different are the words 
that spring to his lips! Lyrical, colloquial, plain matter-of-fact words 
which clearly reveal that Diaghilev, fundamentally, could have been no 
aesthete.” How beautifully he writes of Levitan, “who succeeded in 
making us realize that we had lost the art of appreciating and seeing 
Russian scenery with Russian eyes; making us realize that he alone of 
Russian painters was able to depict the infinite charm of all those emo- 
tions which, in morning coolness, or twilight’s languorous warmth, in 
some remote north Russian village, each of us so blissfully feels. How 
much true understanding of Russian nature, worthy of Pushkin himself, 

2 Bereadei: A mythological figure representing "the good old times of yore,” somewhat 
similar to Old King Cole. (Ed.) 



CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE 19 

we find in all his work; in his blue moonlit nights, his avenues of 
sleeping, century-old birches, which slowly lead one to that old house in 
the country, which all of us know so well, where Tatyana waits and 
dreams. . . . 

- “There was nothing sensational about his work: the bits of scenery he 
painted seem to have flashed past, and been forgotten, as though they 
themselves had fused with Nature. But one fact remains indubitable, and 
will never be forgotten. That very moment we leave the stifling atmos- 
phere of the town for Nature, we recall with gratitude the great les- 
sons of this painter of the Russian soil. ’Whether it be some village belfry, 
some tattered hedge or bluish lak^ in all his work we see Nature through 
him, by means of him, as he himself saw it and revealed it to others.” 

With the same love Diaghilev writes of the work of Maliutin, in con- 
nection with the building of a tower at Talashkino, “that proper Rus- 
sian countryseat” owned by Princess Tenishev. “What a delightful and 
artistic impression, all these elaborate, yet simple towers, make on the 
beholder! It is impossible to say where the charm of Maliutin’s artistic 
imagination begins, or where the charm of the Russian landscape ends. 
Ornamented with fantastic birds, gates lead into the forest, and their 
ramifications mingle with the pine tree branches against a haze of deep 
dazzling snow.” 

And then the lyrical obituary Diaghilev wrote for Mashenka Yakun- 
chikova, that real lament for a sister-artist. “Yakunchikova’s time was all 
too short for all the things she might have done. But in all that she had 
time to do, harassed by baby-napkins and the bustle of Paris, she revealed 
the depths of a lovely talent, a profound feeling and affection for our 
Russian forests, oh, so remote, ‘those litde pines and firs’ which for her 
were instinct with religious feeling, and which she longed for all her 
life. Her whole existence was a drama. . . . She could not cope with it 
all, she, the dear poet of Russian forests, pastures, village churchyards 
with their lopsided crosses, convent gates, and village porches. How 
could she, she so gende and frail, find it in her to struggle with life?” 

With what emotion must Diaghilev have looked at the portrait of 
Yakunchikova, depicting an immense open lawn facing the pillared ter- 
race of Vedenskoye, so touchingly reminiscent of the Bikbarda veranda 
described by his stepmother. Childish memories persisted in Diaghilev all 
through his life and in Benois’ dfeor for the Gotterdammerung it is as 
though some tiny corner of Perm province haunts him still. 

Diaghilev attributed so great an importance to the Russian landscape 
in its influence on Russian painting, that, writing of the Moscow Exhibi- 
tion of “The 36” painters, he says: “The Moscow public, from the very 
opening, greeted this venture by ‘The 36’ with unanimous approval. And 
it was right that they should do so, for one cannot but approve of these 
pleasing and modest canvases by our truly Russian landscape painters, 
revealing as they do how closely and perseveringly these painters have 



zo SERGE DIAGHELEV 

Studied the beauties o£ our Russian springs, the poetry of thawing snow, 
and every fascinating shade of golden autumn.” 

Here it is necessary to qualify, somewhat, what has been said about 
his ^ind of love for the familiar Russian landscape, and his hind of 
approach to Russian painting. In art, Diaghilev searched for, and valued, 
familiar emotions dear to him, though he was far from being indifferent 
to what the picture represented. But this value acquired importance and 
interest for him, only when the picture had its own artistic value, inde- 
pendent of any “anecdotal” quality. The theme, the “what” of painting, 
not only did not exist for him, he felt it alien to him. He was as actively 
hostile to it, as he was deeply sympathetic to the whole of the “Inde- 
pendent” movement which was then beginning to arise. 

The second qualification relates to the depicting of Russian nature. 
What Diaghilev loved most was not the heroic or fantastic, but the 
elegiac, lyrical, tender. For that reason Bilibin, both Vasnetzovs, and even 
Helena Pblenova, one of the goddesses of The World of Art, left him 
comparatively cold, whereas the profoundly lyrical Levitan and Yakunchi- 
kova moved him deeply. In the same way, Tchaikovsky’s elegiac tender- 
ness made Diaghilev, about the same time, say of him, “that dear and 
near poeti that dearest of all Russian musicians.” 

I have dealt in some detail with the problem of Diaghilev’s concep- 
tion of art, because the origins of that attitude were rooted in childhood 
and adolescence, when as a small, healthy and turbulent boy, he roamed 
the woods and fields of Bikbarda. In that normal and healthy environ- 
ment, there was but little likelihood that he would indulge in abstract 
analytical processes, in place of a direct assimilation of nature. No, Diag- 
hilev was never a Wunderkjnd! He was a country-bred boy, surrounded 
by others, nurtured on Nature and Nature alone, very different from that 
other, Nikolenka, in, Tolstoy’s Childhood and Adolescence, “whose spirit- 
ual sustenance was abstract discussion and deadly introspection.” Leav- 
ing the question of Diaghilev’s later development to a future chapter, 
all I would say here is that, as time went on, he more and more inclined 
to the “Left” where art was concerned, only however to return, before 
his death, to what was traditional and real, for that was the very basis 
of his being. 

Diaghilev’s childhood must have been very happy. I do not get this 
impression of his happiness, and the joyous fullness of his life at this 
time, from books or memoirs — ^for who can pierce the candid, mute soul 
of a child? ^but from things recalled by Serge Pavlovitch towards the 
end of his life: memories of youth, remembered with joyful tears, and 
assurances that only then had he been truly happy. 



CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE 


2.x 


The Gymnasium’^ 

In the early years of the ’8o’s, though the exact year is not known, but 
probably in his first year at Perm, i.e., 1882, Diaghilev entered the Perm 
gymnasium. Though we know little of these years, we should know less 
but for the recollections, published by a schoolmate, O. Vassiliev, whose 
friendship with Diaghilev began in 1886. 

“Our gymnasium in those days,” he writes, “was an old-fashioned, 
provincial institution, with somewhat patriarchial customs and observ- 
ances. From time immemorial the headmaster had been old Gracinsky, 
who was already past eighty when I first went to the school. He was a 
venerable old man, with snow-white hair, who, pujSSng and blowing, 
would roam' about the corridors in a nightgown and dressing gown. This 
nightgown was very symbolic of the way things went on at our gym- 
nasium, for the whole place was run in the most homely manner. Classes 
often began late, the teachers would at times arrive not too sober or 
with obvious hang-overs, having done themselves well the night before, 
and order and cleanUness, in the austere and somber old building, were 
mainly conspicuous by their absence. 

“Nevertheless our ‘Granddad’ as we used to call him, was the very soul 
of kindness and decency. 

“True, he looked stern, would frown, and take one to task rather 
severely, even pull one’s hair a litde, but that was only to hide his funda- 
mental kindness and good nature- The smallest boy in the lowest form 
would have no fear of him. 

“Soon after I began going to the school, ‘Granddad’ retired to make 
way for a young, energetic head of the ‘climber’ type, who immediately 
started ‘smartening’ the school up, with the result that very soon feathers 
were flying in all directions. 

“The new head went to the other extreme. Alfionov by name, he was 
by way of being a public figure, and had achieved some notoriety, on 
account of a public pronouncement concerning the ‘Sons of Cooks.’ * One 
frequently saw his name in the newspapers and reviews, and the expres- 
sion he invented became a byword. 

“In those days, Seriozha Diaghilev, the son of very wealthy and im- 
portant people in our town, attended our school. His father, a colonel, 
owned a large distillery. 

“He was a tall, bulky boy for his age, with an unusually big head and 
expressive face. His education and development were well beyond 
average, and far in advance of his class. He knew things of which we, his 
schoolmates, had no notion, such as Russian and foreign literature, the 
theater and music. French and German he also spoke fluently, and 

® Secondary school, equivalent to a grammer school. (Ed.) 

*The Minister of Education had issued regulations which tended to restrict the rights 
of children of domestics to attend high school. (Ed.) 



2 . 2 , SERGE DIAGHILEV 

could play the piano. Externally, too, he was very different. There was an 
elegance, a refinement, even a stateliness in his carriage. He was a per- 
fect ‘little gendeman’ in comparison with us. 

“Seriozha Diaghilev had a funny attractive manner, which seemed to 
go with him, and to be part and parcel of that elegance of his. In talking, 
he would frequently give an abrupt shake to his hand, and end with a 
snap of the fingers. It was a purely imitative gesture adopted by one in 
search of a pose and picturesque mannerism, but already it corresponded 
to something in the boy’s nature. 

“There is no need to insist how exceptional he appeared in our eyes, 
the eyes of his classmates and contemporaries, mostly modest, unnotice- 
able and even drab and colorless provincial schoolboys, or on the impres- 
sion which he created on us. The teaching staff, too, considered him 
exceptional. 

. “His scholastic progress, however, was less remarkable. Not because he 
lacked the capacity for academic distinction: everything, on the contrary, 
testified to his outstanding gifts: but because all our school-world, with 
its dreary learning, its gray teachers and classmates, was too remote from 
his nature. He lived in a different world, more beautiful, more refined, 
and altogether richer in content. 

“The Diaghilev home was one of the most brilliant and intellectual in 
Perm. Indeed, it was Perm’s ‘Athens.’ There, artists, musicians, and the 
most cultured progressive inhabitants of the town congregated for private 
theatricals, balls, concerts or recitals of chamber music. Diaghilev’s father 
was very hospitable, a perfect host, and his mother (his stepmother, 
rather) was a woman of great culture, a musician and singer, who often 
performed at charity concerts. 

“Seriozha Diaghilev moved among the Hite, and so was in no way 
interested in a dismal, gray, provincial school and what it could teach 
him. The Diaghilev house was a large, magnificent mansion at the end of 
the main street — Great Siberian Street — near the park. Indeed, it was like 
the palace of some feudal prince. Inside, too, all was luxury and wealth. 

“Living in such a palace, and accustomed to such an Hite, Diaghilev 
no doubt only remembered school and all connected with it, when the 
moment came to pick up his satchel and go off to his lessons. Probably it 
was the dreariest moment of his day at that time. 

“He would arrive in class totally unprepared, and immediately set to 
work to mug up his lesson, with the help of the best pupils. No one ever 
refused to help him, and when his turn came to be ‘called,’ there would 
always be lots of zealous prompting, while during written lessons num- 
bers of helpful notes would be passed to him. Owing to this help and his 
own dexterity, plus a natural resourcefulness, he generally emerged from 
critical situations completely victorious. One must add that the teachers 
assisted him in every possible way. Most of them frequented the Diag- 



CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE 23 

hilev house, and enjoyed the attentions and hospitality o£ its amiable and 
enlightened hosts. 

“Often on coming to school, Seriozha would say: ‘I ’ll be called at one 
of the Greek lessons today.’ 

“ ‘Why do you think so?’ we would ask. 

“ ‘Our teacher in Greek was visiting us last night, and told me.’ 

“And he actually would be called at the Greek lesson that day, and 
perfectly prepared, receive full marks. Needless to say, I confess we were 
all rather envious of him on such days, for we were questioned unawares, 
and the teachers did not visit our parents’ houses, 

“I reached the fifth form with Seriozha EMaghilev, after which, my 
parents moving to a different town, I began to go to another school.” 

These memoirs provide a veracious, living picture of the spoiled, happy- 
go-lucky Seriozha. One’s only regret is that his classmate says nothing 
of his hot-tempered, dictatorial and arbitrary nature, nor of his pranks 
and fights at school, for we know that Diaghilev, the youth, often 
ended his discussions with blows. 

In spite of the many true and vivid traits described by O. Vassiliev, 
the memoirs sound somewhat sanctimonious, and to be written from a 
viewpoint that seems to reveal an eye to his future greatness and fame. 

Legends about Diaghilev 

In 1890, at eighteen, Diaghilev completed his studies at the Perm 
gymnasium. But actually his childhood and adolescence had come to an 
end the year before, when he “fell”; when for the first and last time in 
his life he had intercourse with a woman. This episode played so enor- 
mous a part throughout the remainder of his most unusual, though 
fundamentally normal, man’s life, that it is necessary to inquire more 
closely into the actual circumstances, in order to seek a clue to Diag- 
hilev’s diflBculties. 

Should we, can we, investigate a matter so delicate? 

These two questions demand separate answers. To my mind, it is a 
matter that needs discussing, and to which an answer should be found. 
Diaghilev was of such importance, indeed so historically important, that 
whatever we can learn of his life must be valuable to us. In my opinion, 
no truth about Diaghilev can detract in the least from his greatness. Be 
that as it may, however, so much gossip and rumor has been spread about 
in connection with Diaghilev’s “abnormalities,” that they are now, and 
have been for years, public property. 

Thus, it is altogether too late to attempt to suppress these rumors, and 
further silence would only result in establishing them more strongly, 
though they in fact distort and defile Diaghilev’s character. Not silence, 
but truth must be the weapon to batde against all these travesties. 

To the second question, can we investigate this matter, the reply must 



24 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

unfortunately be in the negative. For the answer to the riddle involves 
people now living, though of no importance historically, save for the 
legendary Nijinsky, whose relation to Diaghilev has been written about 
elsewhere. 

But to return to the “episode.” As Serge Pavlovitch told it me, it ap- 
pears he was then seventeen, and the girl, young, charming, and a cousin 
of sorts. . . . Then suddenly to his horror and astonishment, he found him- 
self infected. This occurrence made a dreadful impression on Diaghilev, 
and eternally inspired him with a sort of aversion to women. Eternally! 
We know from life and literature (I am thinking of Tolstoy, but 
especially of Andreyev, whose The Abyss had such amazing success 
in the early years of the twentieth century, because of its profound psy- 
chological truth), that the first youthful “falls,” absurd and aimless 
though they may be, "are practically always idisillusioning, and„inspire 
~eiemal disgusti '"Buf this is hardly protracted, for a time comes 

“wlienffi£"Br66Tonce more stirs, and overcomes the disgust. Then, given 
a true relation, disgust vanishes, and makes way for love. This is normal, 
and is what should have happened in Diaghilev’s case, since he was 
normal himself. And so it would have done . . . according to certain 
information which has come to me, but which unfortunately I have been 
unable to verify. For Diaghilev did meet a woman whom he learned to 
love and desire, but a woman who rejected his suit. It was with bitterness, 
therefore, that Diaghilev recalled his rejected love, remarking that, but 
for this rebuff, he would never have glanced at another person 

We do not know whether there was actually such a woman in his life, 
but, be that as it may, even when Diaghilev’s intimate life had already 
taken another direction, there were times when love and desire for woman 
would awake in him, though fated never to find expression or fulfillment. 

Highly sexed, with strong erotic instincts, Diaghilev’s creative erotic 
energies were directed into “abnormal” channels, not so much because of 
his repulsion towards women, but because he happened to frequent a 
certain fashionable milieu, and because of a friendship with a young 
handsome writer 

At that time — the ’90’s — ^both he and Diaghilev attacked “abnormal 
love” with such heat, that even their friends did not suspect the existence 
of any such intimacy between them. 

According to Diaghilev, had he been able to marry the woman he 
loved, no one else would ever have mattered to him, and he would have 
remained faithful to his one woman. Since fate, however, willed otherwise, 
his life became a quest for the one beloved. Unless this is understood, it 
is impossible to understand Diaghilev and his eroticism, or its importance 
in his devotion to the arts. 

Above all, Diaghilev was constant. Though he loved many, it was not 
because, his whim satisfied, he passed easily from love to love; but be- 
cause they abandoned him, they betrayed him, and left him to his agony, 



CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE AJ 

and the shattered fragments of his dream of one beloved. Diaghilev had 
no use for “lovely boys” — ^more, he was always drawn to normal people — 
and nothing can be more erroneous than such a view of him. 

The truth was very different. What attracted him in people was their 
talent, or some exceptional gift adumbrating genius, a genius pure and 
simple, for everything in Diaghilev humbled itself before the supremacy 
of art. Love, Eros, was not only linked to^ and bound up with art for 
him, but came to him through art. 

First he would be struck and enthralled by some discovered “genius,” 
then he would wish to bring that genius to life and reveal it to the world, 
and only then would he begin to love the possessor of that genius, 
tenderly, timorously, self-sacrificingly; begin to love and desire and long 
for the chosen one to be his, all his. 

True to the family type, for all the Diaghilevs had numbers of children 
and saw themselves as so many paterfamilias, Diaghilev all his life 
dreamed of a family and strove to build one up with the help of his one 
beloved, though that one beloved, time after time, abandoned him for 
some woman, to create a family with that woman. Then once more Diag- 
hilev would be left alone in his fearful abandonment, to a world made 
desert. 

This was Diaghilev’s tragedy, repeated over and over. First that brutal 
shock when Romola robbed him, fate’s spoiled child, of his Nijinsky. 
Then, as successive favorites, one after the other, abandoned him for 
women, he came to realize by degrees how inevitable that betrayal must 
be. And so Diaghilev became jealous of women, where his beloved were 
concerned, and feared the eventual rupture, knowing how inevitable it 
must be. He knew too how stimulating his own intimacy was, and that 
the more he hedged his “elected” round, the more alluring and desirable 
women found them. Thus, in a very self-protection, he would seek to 
arouse a disgust in them for the female form, by demonstrating its lack 
of ideal beauty. Again, knowing that what was most terrible, most 
dangerous in women was not their bodies, which were rarely beautiful, 
but their romantic halo, their femininity and charm, he would seek to pro- 
tect himself by encouraging the physical intimacy of his “elected” with 
women, so long as that intimacy remained on a physical plane, for then 
no opportunity would exist for the dream to crystallize, that being what 

he most feared Nevertheless, all this conflict moved and excited him 

strangely. 

More and more, with time, was Eros killed in him, and ever more 
clearly appeared the futility of his dream of establishing a femily about 
him. An abiding sadness took possession of his soul. This longing for a 
family, given his paternal nature, was intensely deep-rooted. Towards the 
end he began to think of another family, not this time his own, but one 
very near to him. I remember how, in 1928, the year before his death, he 
said to me, with a sad affectionate smile, “Seriozha, marry, please marry! 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


26 

m stand godfather to your son. He’ll call me Granddad and love me. 
When I’m old, he’ll be such a joy to me, perhaps my only joy. . . 

All this has taken me a long way from Diaghilcv’s childhood, but how 
disentangle youth from maturity and their endless repercussions.? And 
is it not in youth that we find the spring which feeds maturity, and more 
or less determines the whole of a man’s future development? 



CHAPTER m 


PRELUDES TO **THE WORLD OF ART” 

'Diaghilet^s arrival in St. Petersburg and his meeting with 
A. 'N. Benois 

SOMEONE LEAPS through the window of the Ratkov-Rozhnov’s villa 
near St. Petersburg, and a gay, clear, baritone voice cries out, “I’m 
Seriozha!” 

It was 1890, and Diaghilev had but lately arrived from Perm. 

The story is now taken up by his friend at diat time, A. N. Benois. 

“I first met Diaghilev,” he says, “in the summer of 1890. That year, I 
remained in town, and D. Filosofov, who had gone off to his estate, 
Bogdanovskoye, entrusted me and our common friend V. F. Nouvel, with 
the task of seeing that his cousin, Seriozha Diaghilev, who had just 
matriculated in Perm, and was about to enter the university, ‘was made 
comfortable.’ One fine morning, therefore, I was informed that Seriozha 
had arrived, and the very same day was able to take a look at Dima’s 
cousin, in Valetchka’s apartment. What struck us all was his look of 
abounding health. He had full rosy cheeks, vermilion lips and perfect 
white teeth, revealed whenever he smiled. It was seldom that this smile 
did not turn into an infectious, though quite childish laugh. On the 
whole, he seemed ‘a nice chap’ to us, ‘a boisterously healthy country lad,’ 
and if we then and there decided to allow him to join ‘our band,’ it was 
only because he was a relative of one of us, Dima. He was the same age as 
Filosofov, two years younger than I, and one year younger than 
Valetchka. 

“The memory of this meeting recalls something that happened either 
in the same, or the following year, at a time when I knew Serge very 
much better, but when many things in him still had a way of unex- 
pectedly revealing themselves. Seriozha had just come back from the 
country, and wanted me to go with him visiting Valetchka, then staying 
in a villa at Pargolovo. As it happened, Valetchka was out, and we went 
looking for him, but as I wanted to revisit certain places remembered 
from childhood, we went towards the Viukhi Hills, which bound Pargo- 
lovo to the north. It was very hot, and we were forced to cross some 
rough, boggy ground. After a bit, tired out, we decided to rest in a field, 
and then, having discovered a dry spot, stretched out on the grass. As 
we lay there looking up at the sky, I began to put him through a sort of 
cross-questioning. This kind of friendly inquisition was pretty usual 
among us at the time. It was a way of finding out how suitable the 

37 



28 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

Other fellow was, a way of assuring ourselves his views did not diverge 
too hopelessly from our own. Even at our first meeting it had transpired 
that, though Seriozha was musical, and even a ‘composer,’ and intended, 
in addition to his studies, to take courses in voice-training and musical 
composition, his musical tastes did not quite correspond wth ours. Even 
then, he ranked Glinka above all other composers (his father Pavel 
Pavlovitch knew the whole of Russian by heart), but though he appreci- 
ated Borodin, at the same time, too, he enjoyed all sorts of ‘Italian stuff,’ 
while being somewhat indifFerent to our idol Tchaikovsky, and even 
Wagner. 

“This ‘serious’ conversation was suddenly interrupted most unexpect- 
edly, in the worst schoolboy manner. Lying on my back, I could not 
see what Seriozha was doing, and so was completely taken aback when 
I suddenly found him astride of me, belaboring me with his fists, and 
at the same time roaring with laughter. Naturally, a fight started. But 
still, nothing of this kind was ever allowed in our group. We were all 
‘well brought up, mothers’ little boys,’ and according to the then pre- 
vailing custom, were rather averse to any kind of ‘physical exercise.’ 
What was more, I soon discovered that I should not be able to deal with 
such a strong, heavy chap as Seriozha then was, and that, in fact, the 
‘senior’ had got into a very unprofitable and even humiliating situation. 
A ruse seemed the only way out, and I uttered a loud cry, and said 
that my hand was injured. Nevertheless, he did not immediately stop, 
and his eyes, only a few inches from my own, went on gleaming in 
triumph and the desire to get the better of me. At last, meeting with no 
further resistance, and yielding to my prayers, he stopped the silly game, 
jumped to his feet, and even helped me get up. To make him believe 
I was hurt, I went on nursing my hand for some little time, though in 
fact it did not pain me at all. 

“I have remembered this episode all my life, and in my subsequent 
relations with him, I often recalled it whenever he ‘got me under’ (though 
in a figurative sense), or when I had somehow got my own back and 
was ‘victorious.’ In any case, our relations throughout the succeeding 
years continued in terms of competition and struggle, and as I see it, this 
gave an added vitality and strenuousness to our friendship and col- 
laboration. . . . 

“...For years I had been one of Seriozha’s chief ‘pedagogues,’ one of 
his ‘intellectual guardians.’ But all through those years, Seriozha, while 
‘wringing out’ of me (and everyone else) whatever we could be made to 
yield, would at the same time, with a strange facility, pass from peace 
to strife, would ‘throw’ his man, or again, for no apparent reason, take a 
hiding, though now he employed ‘persuasive’ means of a moral, or busi- 
ness order, instead of having recourse to brute force.” 



Z9 


PRELUDES TO "THE WORLD OF ART” 

Friendship ■with D. V. Filosofov and first journey abroad 

The incident referred to above must have taken place in 1891, for 
Diaghilev only spent a few days in St. Petersburg during the summer 
of i8go, after which he left for Bogdanovskoye, the Filosofov estate in 
Pskov province, preparatory to starting out with his cousin on their 
“European tour.” 

This journey abroad marks the beginning of that deep friendship 
which united the two men for the next fifteen years. Abroad, people 
would often turn round to stare or gaze after them with open admira- 
tion, so gentlemanly did Diaghilev appear, so aristocratic Filosofov. 
Benois tells how Filosofov with his great influence over Diaghilev intro- 
duced him to art. The extent of Filosofov’s influence over Diaghilev 
cannot be denied, not only in the early ’90’s, but during The World of 
Art period. Nevertheless, it must remain an open question, whether this 
influence was either positive or of great significance. I shall, however, 
treat this matter in greater detail when discussing the editorial staff of 
The World of Art. 

Among those surrounding Benois, Dima Filosofov undoubtedly knew 
most about art, though least sensitive to it. This organic alienness, never 
suspected by the “Pickwickians,” will be comprehended only by artists. 
Dima was useful in helping to propound the problems of art to Diaghilev 
— ^at that epoch abstract considerations meant little to him — but as to con- 
veying any understanding of art, or helping him to assimilate it, that he 
could not do. Indeed, endowed as he was by nature with artistic percep- 
tions and a sensitivity given to but very few of the disciples of Apollo, 
this was perhaps what he least stood in need of. Let us be grateful, there- 
fore, to Filosofov for guiding Diaghilev in the direction of the arts. 

This first journey abroad was but short, for both had to be back in 
time for the new term. Nevertheless, they had managed to visit Berlin, 
Paris, Venice, Rome, Florence and Vienna. What made the deepest im- 
pression on Diaghilev were Venice, Florence and Vienna. Here it was 
he heard his first performance of Lohengrin. It swept him out of himself, 
and from that moment he began to rave about Wagner. From Lohengrtn 
and Tannhauser he progressed to The Nibelungs and Parstfal, and from 
Parsifal and The Ping to Tristan and Isolde and the Meistersinger, the 
two latter works remaining his most beloved operas to the end of his days. 

In 1900, in The World of Art, we find the following words from his 
pen: “The most important musical event of the season was that which 
passed least noticed. 'We refer to the production, on the Russian stage, of 
Wagner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. Generally speaking, it is always works 
of genius which least appeal to audiences. This axiom, though far from 
new, always excites an involuntary protest. Tristan was composed some 
forty years ago, and consequently sufficient time should have elapsed for 
our audiences to have accustomed themselves to it; nevertheless, to date. 



30 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

we fear the courage has been lacking. Not that we disapprove, since the 
longer a work of genius remains hidden from the enthusiasms of the 
multitude, the completer and more intact will it remain for the lovers of 
true art.” 

About Venice, which later became for Diaghilev the most beloved place 
on earth — z. Diaghilev place — shall have to tell again and again. His 
delight in it was endless, he was always talking of it, and after his first 
return he would, to all and sundry, proudly display a large photograph 
depicting himself and Filosofov reclining in a gondola. 

Revelation, however, came in Florence, and with it a standard to 
appraise all art. Significantly, The World of Art for 1899 contains the 
following words under his name: “There is no objective norm for the 
evaluation of a work of art. But in every, or almost every, work of art 
there is a moment of maximum creative genius, and that and that only 
must be our scale. Only that is worth while and exciting. One must climb 
the pinnacles of Florentine art to pass judgment on contemporary art.” 

This belief in Florence as earth’s most priceless treasure house of art 
was reafiirmed in him with every subsequent visit. 

The ^^Neva Fickwickians^^ and the influence of A. N. Benois 

Back in St. Petersburg, Diaghilev lived for a time with his aunt, A. P. 
Filosofov — ^Dima’s mother — ^well known for her pioneer work in connec- 
tion with women’s rights, and their freedom to enter the universities. 
Here he took his degree in law, as did his new friends, D. V. Filosofov, 
A. N. Benois and V. F. Nouvel. Not that the university played any impor- 
tant part in his life, for neither the life nor the work interested him. His 
whole outlook differed fundamentally from that of the average under- 
graduate — ^the herd instinct frightened him — ^and politics, whether of the 
Right or Left, left him indifferent. Nor did the subject he had chosen 
much attract him, for he seldom attended lectures, and time and again 
absented himself from examinations, with the result that he was soon out- 
stripped by his fellows (as was, owing to illness, Dima Filosofov). It was 
only the necessity of completing the course, and taking a degree, in those 
days considered essential to a career, which made him finally pass the 
required examination. It was now 1896, and Diaghilev had spent six years 
at the university instead of the customary four. 

What interested him much more deeply was a group formed in 1890, 
the year in which he reached St. Petersburg. The story of the group, or 
“society,” which came to play such an important part in Russian art life, 
is told in detail by its chief inspirer, A. N. Benois. 

“The active members of the ‘society,’ ” he says, “the real cradle of The 
World of Art, were myself, its elected president, V. F. Nouvel, D. V. 
Filosofov, L. S. Rosenberg, who in the following year adopted the name 
of his grandfather, Bakst, G. F. Kalin and N. V. Skalon. All these were 



PRELUDES TO **THE WORLD OF ART*’ 3 1 

foundation members, and as such enjoyed certain honorary privileges. 
Bakst held the ofl&ce of speaker (and maintained order by means of a 
brass bell only> too frequently employed), and Grisha Kalin was the 
secretary. 

“As associate members, though not very regular in their attendances, 
we had C. A. Somov, my childhood friend V. A. Brun de St. Hippolyte, 
who later vanished completely from our world, J. N. Fenoult, J. A. 
Mamontov, N. P. Cheremisinov, D. H. Pypin and S. P. Diaghilev . . . 
Diaghilev himself never lectured, and disliked attending our ‘real’ lectures, 
but on less formal evenings he, together with ‘Valetchka’ Nouvel, would 
treat us to pieces for four hands, or would sing in his fine powerful 
baritone 

“The subject of some of our lectures were: ‘Some characteristics of the 
great masters of painting,’ delivered by myself and in which I managed 
to deal with the lives of Diirer, Holbein and Cranach; ‘French Painting 
of the XIXth Century,’ also by myself, but this time, I believe, I got no 
further than Girodet and Gerard; ‘The Behef in a Future Life among 
Various Peoples,’ read by Skalon, who alone among us was distinguished 
by a materi^st conception of the universe; ‘Turgenev and his Time,’ by 
Kalin , a very lively and witty lecturer; ‘Russian Painting,’ by Levushka 
Bakst, who had only time to acquaint us with the work of G. Semiradsky 
and J. Klever, sundry landscape painters and C. Makovsky, for which 
we twitted him unmercifully; ‘The History of Opera,’ by V. Nouvel, 
who accompanied his lecture with some interesting musical illustrations; 
‘Alexander I,’ by our youngest member, D. Filosofov, though, as I 
remember, he barely got further than 1806. But there is no need to give 
these lectures in further detail, for the themes treated at our gatherings 
provide a sufficient proof of the part they played in originating the future 
The World of Art. 

“By the middle of the first winter, however, the ‘Neva Pickwickians’ 
began to reveal a certain impatience towards the society and its statutes. 
Associate members grew irregular in their attendances, lecturers tried to 
shirk lecturing and the unbridled spirit of youthful exuberance tore 
wildly about, and strove to destroy the existing order. As for the Speaker’s 
bell, it was rarely silent. 

“In the autumn of 1891, the society’s meetings were resumed, only to 
be discontinued almost immediately, and were never held in that form 
again. But the thing had been done. We realized we represented a definite 
kernel, or, as we liked to call ourselves, remembering Balzac, ‘un cenacle,’ 
composed of personalities ‘out-of-the-ordinary,’ that being one of our 
jocular ^ ways of describing ourselves, and one which continued perma- 

^A. N. Benois says that the term "personalities out-of-the-ordinary” was used joctjlarly 
by the members, but this must be an error, for all the members at that epoch were 
seriously interested and attracted by hTietzsche and Nictzscheanism — —with its consequ^t 
influence on The World of Art. Though they may not all have been positive of becoming 
“Napoleons” they most certainly believed themselves to be “Supermen.” 



32 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

nendy in use. In time, however, the membership of the group changed. 
The pillars, Valetchka, Levushka, Dima and I, remained through all the 
metamorphoses of 'The World of Art, but by degrees Sk&lon, Kalin and 
many associate members left. In their place some who had remained at 
a distance, such as Diaghilev, Somov, and — ^no longer a boy — ^my nephew 
Lanceret, now attached themselves the more closely. In the course of 1892 
and part of 1893, my friend Charles Birle, an official at the Consulate in 
St. Petersburg, and later French Consul in Moscow, became a regular 
attendant. To him we owe the change in our attitude towards contem- 
porary art. He was also responsible for bringing A. P. Nourok into our 
group, a man several years our senior but with a soul considerably 
younger. 

“At this time our society was contemplating the publication of its own 
journal, and had even taken some preliminary steps, but of course nothing 
came of it. I say of course because Diaghilev had nothing to do with the 
matter, for during the first five years of the ’90’s Scriozha Diaghilev was 
somewhat aloof from the other members.” 

Benois seems to complain that Diaghilev was seldom present at the 
society’s meetings, and that some time had to elapse before his friends, 
engrossed in art and its attendant problems, were able to consider him 
“one of them.” Nevertheless, Diaghilev was profoundly interested in art, 
though much less in its problems. But the society’s members (A. N. Benois 
in particular) were irritated with Diaghilev and his “provincial lack of 
culture, his indifference to aesthetic and philosophical argumentation,” 
and even more by what Benois calls his foppishness. “There were times,” 
says Benois, “when Seriozha’s behavior was really offensive. In the theater, 
for instance, he would behave in a quite peculiar and most objectionable 
manner, stalking about with his nose in the air, barely deigning to 
acknowledge his friends yet — what was worse — ^all nods and smiles to 
socially important acquaintances.” 

This “vainglorious snobbishness,” it may be said in passing, accom- 
panied Diaghilev through life. Only towards the very end did I observe 
any change, when reality— dearly paid for— had taught him wisdom in 
this respect. 

Benois notes, too, that “in the first years after his arrival from Perm, 
Diaghilev on the whole rather ignored art. He was interested in the 
theater, busy establishing social connections, occupied with his music, and 
— ^infinitely less! — with his university studies. He avoided exhibitions, did 
not visit the museums, and only very spasmodically attended the meetings 
of our group, which at that time was deeply interested in painting and 
the plastic arts.” 

We may note, in passing, Benois’ somewhat obvious slip, for clearly 
it is painting he means when he writes: “Diaghilev on the whole rather 
ignored art.” This is proved by the next sentence where he says he was 
interested in the theater and music. It shoxild be emphasized, however. 







PRELUDES TO **THE WORLD OF ART” 33 

that Diaghilev’s indiflEerence to painting attaches only to his' very first 
years in St. Petersburg, and that even so "indifference” is altogether too 
strong a word. Diaghilev was interested in painting, but music predomi- 
nated over all else. 

This interest in painting was developed and stimulated chiefly, though 
not entirely, by Benois himself, and that he learned much from his teacher, 
Diaghilev himself does not deny, for in reviewing Benois’ History of 
Russian Painting he wrote: “Benois’ influence on contemporary Russian 
art is incomparably greater than appears at first glance. If, prejudice aside, 
it seems to us that the whole future of Russian art now resides in the 
exhibitions organized under the aegis of the so-called The World of Art 
group, and that their banner stands for a noteworthy and coherent group- 
ing, then it must be admitted that Benois played an all-important part 
in inspiring that unity and its steadfast convictions. 1 

“I must confess candidly that though in fact I was the organizer of 
these exhibitions, but for Benois’ influence, that art group which gave us 
Somov, Lanceret, Bakst, Braz, Maliavin and even Serov, could never have 
been rallied to one purpose, for each would have gone his own way. 

“Of wide culture and profoundly responsive, Benois’ tendency to 
involve himself in pedagogic activities was always remarkable. Even as 
a young man he was always, automatically as it were, inculcating a real 
love of art in his friends, a love he has never deserted to this day. We 
are all eternally in his debt for our knowledge, relative though that may 
be, and for our absolute faith in our mission.” 

We need feel no astonishment at the fact that the cultured Benois, a 
denizen of the capital, descended from a family of professional artists, 
should have proved so excellent a teacher for the young provincial from 
Perm, whose family were only cultured dilettantes, and who, though 
remarkably gifted by nature, was certainly not plagued by any of the 
problems of art, nor, generally speaking, prone to philosophizing; whereas 
Benois and his friends, particularly Nouvel, might even then, in the ’90’s, 
have been considered blasS. What is astonishing is that the healthy, rosy- 
cheeked, and apparently unthinking provincial — ^the youngest of them all 
— ^should have been able to “throw his men” so soon, and become not 
only their leader but that of all artistic Russia. 

Friendship tuith V. F. 'Nouvel and interest in Music 

In the sphere of music, however, Diaghilev was infinitely more inde- 
pendent. At the time of his arrival in St. Petersburg, he was not only an 
accomplished singer, and excellent performer on the piano, but had the 
right to consider himself a serious musician and composer, with several 
works to his credit. Thanks to a common enthusiasm for music, V. F. 
Nouvel, one of the members of the “Neva Pickwickians,” soon became 
his closest friend. ’This was “Valetchka,” as he was known to the other 



34 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

members, in the editorial offices of The World of Art, and eventually in 
Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet. 

Valetchka Nouvel, known to everyone who had anything to do with 
art, was on intimate terms with every outstanding personality in that 
world, though most perhaps with Diaghilev, Somov, Kuzmin, Sudeikine 
anjd, Stravinsky. 

His whole life was spent among art and artists, yet he himself was 
neither artist nor patron, but only an extremely enlightened and devoted 
dilettante. Nevertheless, the opinions and judgments of this dilettante bore 
great weight, especially in the period of The World of Art. 

An exceedingly vivid picture of the Nouvel of those days is to be found 
in Mme. Ostroumova-Lebedeva’s Autobiographical Notes. 

“A young, uncommonly active, cheerful man. Terribly restless. He 
makes one think of champagne, when it sparkles and fizzes. The moment 
he entered a room, everyone became cheerful. He was very clever, really 
clever. He would laugh at, mock and tease everyone, but his particular 
victim was always Nourok,® whom he buzzed round like a horse-fly, 
planting sting after sting. At first Nourok would begin by retaliating, 
parrying the taunts with often rather venomous shafts, but Nouvel was 
indefatigable. So mercilessly indeed did he pester Nourok, that the latter 
would begin to howl with anguish. Nevertheless, they never quarreled, 
for when he had reduced Nourok to the very depths of despair, he would 
burst out laughing, and they would become friends again. They were 
really great friends. Nouvel was an excellent musician. Later, they both 
fotmded the Contemporary Music Society. Both were remarkable for their 
passion for freedom, and a complete absence of all ambition.” 

This absence of ambition, of initiative in any large sense, somewhat 
obscured Nouvel in the eyes of the public, so that it is not generally 
realized how important a part he played on The World of Art, or what 
his connection was with the Contemporary Music Society. Nevertheless, 
this undogmatic, skeptical aesthete, whose sense of beauty was infinitely 
more developed than that of Filosofov, just as he was infinitely lighter 
than Dima, was content to continue in his part as Attache Extraordinary 
to art, as, in life, he never aspired to be more than Attach^ Extraordinary 
at the Ministry of the Imperial Court, where all his official life was spent.® 

Fate played queer pranks with these two friends of Diaghilev’s, for 
Filosofov, a born functionary, turned author and became a man of no 
profession, whereas lazy, casual Nouvel became a servant of the public. 

I have dwelt in some detail, though hardly sufficiently perhaps, but I 
shall have to return to him frequently, with Valetchka Nouvel, for not 
only was he Diaghilev’s friend but, what is more, he was the confidant 
to whom Serge Pavlovitch opened his soul and confessed his sins, and 

shall have more to say about Nourok, one of the most active workers on The World 
of Art. 

* Attach^ Extraordinary was often used in Russia in a slightly derisive, or as here, 
deprecatory sense, implying very light duties, if any. (Ed.) 



PRELUDES TO **THE WORLD OF ART*’ 35 

in whom he found an antidote to the narrow dogmatism of Dima 
Filosofov. 

A mutual passion for music had led to their intimacy. Together they 
played piano duets, went to concerts, solemnly discussed music and their 
common idol, Tchaikovsky. When in 1893, Tchaikovsky was dying, 
Nouvel tells us that Diaghilev, who lived fairly near “Uncle Petra,” would 
call several times a day to inquire, and would then pass on the news at 
once to Nouvel. Diaghilev was the first to arrive at Tchaikovsky’s death- 
bed, bearing a wreath. 

A.n incident with N. A. BJ-msky-Korsakov 

Throughout these years, in fact, until 1895, it was music arid musical 
activities which dominated everything in Diaghilev’s life. With regard 
to his singing lessons it seems to be generally agreed that Cottogni was 
his master. But where theory was concerned, the witnesses differ. Benois 
says: “As regards the theory of music he had the advantage of studying 
under Rimsky-Korsakov,” and this information is confirmed by Igor 
Grabar. 

Diaghilev himself told me he had studied composition imder that 

composer. -r xr u- 

However that may be, certain of Diaghilev s friends, Koribut-Kubito- 

vitch, Nouvel, and others, claim to remember an episode which could 
only have been told them by Diaghilev himself, and which, from internal 
evidence, would seem to make it impossible for the latter ever to have 
been the pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov. In Koribut-Kubitovitch’s memoirs 
we find: “So far as I remember, Seriozha studied theory and composition, 
not with Rimsky-Korsakov, but with Sokolov, a professor at the Conser- 
vatoire. Serge, however, having a high opinion of his own musical talerit,- 
wished to obtain the former’s opinion on his work, and to that end paid 
him a visit, expecting to be met with praise and encouragement , only, 
however, to be forced to listen to some by-no-means flattering criticism, 
and a warning that he still had very much to learn. Angry and hint, he 
left the composer, saying, ‘Take it from me, you’ll hear very different 
opinions when I’m famous,’ as he slammed the door.” Nouvel’s version 
however is even brusquer (though equally improbable) . “Time will show 
which of us history considers the greater.” ... 

What did happen, and when, between the two men, it is impossible to 
say in the absence of actual eye-witnesses, but what seems certain is that 
Rimsky-Korsakov’s chill reception considerably damped Diaghilev’s ardor 
for music. The only way of reconciling the conflicting accounts wo^d 
appear to be by assuming that this episode occurred, not at their first 
meeting, but some time after Diaghilev had begun to study under the 
famous musician, and that it was this episode itself which caused him 
to transfer his allegiance to Sokolov. 



36 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

An even chillier reception, however, awaited, him in 1894, this time 
from his friends. Diaghilev had invited numerous guests to a party, at 
which the fountain scene from Boris Godunov was to be played, for 
which he himself had written the music, and which, though obviously 
deriving from Mussorgsky, contained no small infusion of broad melody. 
In addition, he himself was singing in the role of Dmitri, the Imposter, 
while his aunt, A. V. Panaev-Karstov was filling the role of Marina. 
But the whole scene turned out an utter and awful fiasco, after which 
Diaghilev renounced composition forever. 

Thus, to all intents and purposes, his musical apprenticeship was over. 
Nevertheless, his love for music continued, and he went on assiduously 
attending concerts. At that epoch his god was Wagner. In the same year 
he became a subscribing member of the Imperial Musical Society, and 
made great efforts to infuse new life and blood into it . . . but with little 
success. 

Disappointed with his lack of success in the domain of music, Diaghilev 
more and more began to turn to painting. . . . 


Diaghilev at Bogdanovskoye 

From 1890 to 1895, Diaghilev spent every summer with Dima Filosofov, 
either at his Bogdanovskoye estate, near Pskov, or abroad. This estate 
was in the heart of the Pushkin country, and only a few miles from 
Mikhaelovskoye, Trigorskoye, Vrev, and Sviati Gori. With its “Turgeniev” 
ponds, its lovely old parks and gardens, its broad avenues of trees and 
winding footpaths, its century-old limes and hills and strip-fields, it 
seemed the very heart of Russia, picturesque and colorful in a way not 
often met with in the North. 

Everything at Bogdanovskoye reminded one of Pushkin, while at 
Trigorskoye there still lived that Maria Ivanovna Osipova who had 
actually known the great poet, and his “Zizi’s” daughter, Baroness S. B. 
Vrevskaya. In these surroundings, “where two years flashed by in hermit 
solitude,” where so many of Pushkin’s masterpieces were written, one 
enters more deeply into the great poet’s works. Diaghilev had always loved 
Pushkin, but after these visits to Bogdanovskoye, that love became a 
veritable cult. ' 

However, even here in the country village, the conflict of two ideologies 
made itself felt, the clash of two generations. Not that it involved Pushkin 
in any way, though each side interpreted him differently, but one side, 
that of the “ ’6o’s,” with its doctrine of social service, demanded that art 
should be useful and propagandist, and thus opposed any aesthetic 
approach, whereas that of the “ ’90’s” laid its emphasis on individuality 
in art, and art as its own justification. Tchernichevsky * was emblazoned 

*The leading spirit and writer of the "Back to the People” revolutionary movement 
of the Russian intdligentsia in the ’ 6 o’s and ’ 70 ’s. (Ed.) 



PRELUDES TO *'tHE WORLD OF ART” 37 

on the banner of the former group, which Anna Pavlovna Filosofov had 
borne aloft all her life, while Nietzsche was the rallying cry of the son 
and favorite nephew. 

One may well imagine Mme. Filosofov’s feelings, bovmd up as were 
her ideas with Tchernichevsky’s concepts of an “art for the people,” on 
hearing, and then, in cold print seeing her idol described as “that unhealthy 
influence which still persisted” while “those who judge our art, still some- 
times sigh after that barbaric image which strove to murder art, or at 
least befoul it with its unclean fingers.” 

Upon which, entering the fray, Mme. Filosofov herself wrote: “My 
children are wonderful -and I love them dearly, but I can’t help feeling 
like a hen who has hatched out ducklings. They’re ducklings, not chick- 
ens. Possibly they are better than myself, nevertheless they are assuredly 
not myself. Sometimes it makes me miserable, so difierent are our views. 

“To begin with their disputes and arguments. When our yoimg people 
(not mine alone) meet, and I listen to their discussions and wrangles, 
there are times when I really feel sick. Always the same small talk that 

you get in drawing rooms; music, painting, poetry the whole time 

And when I remember how passionately we used to argue about how we 
could best serve the people! Where is that feeling now, and that activity, 
that yearning to help the weak, etc.? Why, one’s head used to swim 

sometimes with it all# everyone was so alive, so eager But the young 

men of today are prematurely aged. Who knows, perhaps they are right, 
but what use is that to me?” 

“Who knows, perhaps they are right,” Anna Pavlovna exclaims, though 
she could not resist challenging them, or defending her own point of 
view. But when it came to arguing, they always got the better of her, so 
soundly had they established their attitude to art. Mme. Filosofov held 
solid unflinching views on social service, but her aesthetics was less con- 
vincing, for she herself was a Diaghilev and as such endowed with a 
strong artistic instinct, which try as she would, she could not suppress in 
favor of what she considered “more important.” But it was only in words 
they got the better, she still remained unconvinced. 

Nevertheless, so persuasive was Seriozha that at length she was forced 
to surrender to these new spiritual forces and accept them. 

“The Russian decadent movement,” she wrote, “was born here, in our 
Bogdanovskoye, because the pioneers were my son Ehnitri Viadimirovitch, 
and my nephew S. P. Diaghilev. Here it was that The World of Art was 
conceived. To me, a woman of the ’6o’s, the whole thing seemed so mad, 
that it was all I could do to restrain my indignation. They merely laughed 
at me. Imagine my wretchedness at seeing the birth pangs of the decadent 
movement actually occurring in my house. Like all new movements it 
was extravagant in the extreme. Nevertheless, when the edge had worn 
off my initial antagonism, I began to take a certain interest in their ideas, 
and frankly, to sympathize with much in them. The tense, false atmos- 



3 8 SERGE DIAGHUJEV 

phere began to clear, a number of things were bundled away, till at last 
one great idea remained outstanding, namely, the seeking and creation 
of Beauty. Even if Serge had not founded The World of Art, this would 
have been a sufficient claim to fame.” 

If only this truly clever and sensitive woman could have suspected that 
though “beaten” she, too, was partly in the right, and that her son, as 
time would show, was no real duckling! 

A second journey abroad 

Towards the close of 1893, Diaghilev and D. Filosofov made a second 
journey abroad. Some interesting details of the trip are provided by P. G. 
Koribut-Kubitovitch.® “It was February, 1894, when I met Seriozha and 
Dima in Nice. The latter had been seriously ill, and the doctor had ordered 
him o£E to the South of France. I found him convalescing at the famous 
villa. Chateau Valrose, which at that time belonged to P. von Dervis, a 
friend of Dima’s brother, and his fellow-student at the Cadet College and 
Cavalry School. Before reaching Nice, Serge had spent some time in 
Berlin, and there had visited the famous portrait painter Lenbach, from 
whom he had bought a study for the well-known portrait of Bismarck 
in the uniform of the Cuirassiers. Afterwards, in Munich, he had bought 
a painting by Liebermann. He was very proud of these purchases. I 
believe that diis was the beginning of his hobby of collecting pictures, 
and his dream of founding a museum. Then, towards the end of March, 
Serge and I went to Italy and visited a number of towns, including 
Genoa, Milan, Venice, Bologna, and Florence. In Venice and Florence, 
Serge began buying fifteenth- and sixteenth-century furniture. We went 
the rounds of the antique dealers and found some wonderful things. 
Astonishingly good were a leather armchair and some low Savonarola 
stools, a magnificent long table and several chairs, and in Naples and 
Rome, a number of marvelous bronze vases and statuettes. 

“I had been collecting antiques ever since my student days, and so 
could give Diaghilev the benefit of my experience. When all our purchases 
eventually arrived in St. Petersburg, and were installed in Diaghilev’s 
new flat at Zamiatin Pereulok, all Serge’s friends, including Benois, were 
loud in admiration, and Diaghilev himself was very proud of them. If I 
am not mistaken, these objects which were so precious to Serge were not 
destroyed in the Revolution, for it appears that Benois saw and recog- 
nized them in a dep6t for confiscated antique furniture, and managed to 
get them moved and deposited in the Hermitage Museum.” 

® P. G. Koribut-Kubitovitch reached Nice in carnival time. Suddenly, among the merry 
crowd, he found himself being attacked and hustled. Imagine his astonishment when his 
assaulters took off their masks . . . and disclosed S. P. Diaghilev and D. V. Filosofov. 



39 


PRELUDES TO **THE WORLD OF ART** 

Apostle of the Arts 

The year 1895 was a fateful one for Diaghilev, for it marked the break- 
away from his youth, and the beginning of his future activity as Apostle 
of the Arts. In that year he began to try out his wings, immature though 
they were, but even these first attempts presage the soaring heights to 
which he was finally to attain. 

That summer he once more went abroad, but now without his former 
companion Filosofov. On June 15th he was in Antwerp, from which he 
wrote as follows to M. and Mme. Benois: 

“Dear Anna Karlovna and friend Shura! For a long time now I’ve been 
wanting to drop you a line to remind you of my existence, but could not 
manage to write anything worth sending, because there simply hasn’t 
been time to extract the quintessence of all I’ve seen and felt, what with 
visiting four and twenty museums and calling on fourteen painters in 
their studios. For that reason, too, I must put off, till we meet, any real 
discussion of certain artistic problems, of the greatest interest, which have 
cropped up in the last month. 

“But here and now I swear that next winter, I shall put myself in 
Shura’s hands, and solemnly declare him curator of the Diaghilev 
museum. I mean this seriously: who knows, a few years hence we may 
really have something worth while. But whatever happens, the foundations 

will have been well and truly laid; however silence! I refuse to reveal 

all the acquaintances I have recently made, lest I should spoil the eflEect, 
... I hope Shura will hearken to my call, and agree to become curator 
of the museum, for it now seems clear to me that so long as one does 
not attempt anything too ambitious, it would be possible to create some- 
thing quite decent with three or four thousand rubles a year. There you 
have the practical side of my trip. Forgive this disjointed letter. 

“Your friend, Seriozha Diaghilev.” 

On this journey he bought paintings by Bartels, Dagnan-Bouveret, 
Israels, Liebermann, Menzel and, idol of the artists associated with The 
World of Art, a Puvis de Chavannes. These he brought back to Russia. 
But also, he brought back his project for founding a museum, a tremen- 
dous enthusiasm, and an unbelievable energy dedicated to the cause of 
achieving something great in art. This enthusiasm and energy were never 
to abandon him. On the contrary, they were to augment year by year, 
and with every fresh obstacle to the unconquerable creative energy of 
his will. 

The scheme for founding a museum died stillborn, "But,” says A. N. 
Benois, “from that moment Seriozha was on an equal footing with us all, 
and his receptions, in a certain degree, began to rival my own.” 

This phrase, however, needs elaboration, for year by year, Diaghilev, 
though not an artist, began to outstrip his painting friends, and make 



40 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

them more and more believe in him. One o£ the first to be convinced of 
Diaghilev’s genius was V. A. Serov, undisputed leader of the new school 
of Russian painters, who then placed his talent at the service of Diaghilev s 
cause. 

Yet others doubted, in spite of the convincing, the surprising testimony 
of Diaghilev’s profound knowledge and intense sensibility in matters of 
art: an understanding so deep that, years later, it was to take Igor Grabar 
“completely aback.” 

True, this instance is posterior to the period of which I am writing, yet 
none the less is it typical of the man who “at first glance ’ could pierce 
to the inner significance of any work of art. 

“Diaghilev,” he wrote, “was extraordinarily well informed where paint- 
ing was concerned, very much better indeed than many painters. His vis- 
ual memory was remarkable, and his flair for finding attributions quite 
astonishing. I remember an incident which particularly amazed us, when 
we were hanging the pictures for an exhibition of historical paintings 
ill the Tauride Palace, which he himself had planned and organized. Now 
and again we would find ourselves completely at a loss to attribute either 
a sitter’s, or artist’s name to some portrait sent from the country. Where- 
upon Diaghilev would be sent for, and looking in for half an hour, hav- 
ing torn himself away from other interests, with a mere glance, a pitying 
smile would say: ‘Why come, that’s surely a Luders, and that must be 
Prince Alexander Mikhailovitch as a boy.’ 

“In the features of a boy, painted under the Empress Anne, this man 
could discern the future senator as he would be painted under Paul I, or 
vice versa, attribute to some admiral who had fought at Sebastopol, the 
name of a man known only by his portraits as a child, painted in the time 
of Catherine the Great. His judgments were quick and peremptory, and 
of course he occasionally blundered: but never so grossly or frequently 
as others.” 

In that year, too, 1895, Diaghilev published two articles in The News, 
with the sole object, as he put it, “of somewhat opening our public’s 
eyes . . . and those of our painters.” 

During the constant expansion of Diaghilev’s social and artistic activi- 
ties, the two chief pillars of the cenacle, Benois and Somov, had cstabr 
lished themselves in Paris. Thus, all the credit for conceiving and carrying 
out his ideas for inculcating a new approach to art must be attributed 
simply and solely to Diaghilev. 

His first highly successful “manifestation” was the 1897 exhibition of 
English and German water-colorists, about which, in 1924, Begpis wrotc^ 

“It may seem strange for Diaghilev to have started Oiff now with the 
English, Germans and Scandinavians, and to have attached such impor- 
tance to painters in water color, i.e., second-raters and their affectations. 
But that may be explained in many ways, and chiefly perhaps, by our own 
immaturity. There was an instinctive urge in us to escape from the back- 



PRELUDES TO "tHE WORLD OF ART*’ 4I 

wardness of our Russian artistic concepts, to rid ourselves of our provin- 
cialism, and establish contact •with Western culture and its untiring 
experimentation in the arts. We wanted to get away from the literary 
approach, the tendentiousness of our ‘independent,’ the hopeless dilettant- 
ism of our pseudo-innovators, and our expiring academism. But we still 
lacked a background that would enable us to discern what was most 
precious outside our borders, and to concentrate all our faculties on 
that alone.” 


Dreams of a Museum and Review; 

Having revealed to the Russian public one aspect of artistic achieve- 
ment in the West by means of this small though impressive “manifesta- 
tion,” Diaghilev began to dream of new and more grandiose schemes, 
schemes which he alone could execute. 

“I want,” he said, “to peel Russian art of its triminings, give it a thor- 
ough clean-up, and serve it up to the West in all its glory. If the time is 
not yet ripe, however, then hail to Krylov’s ‘Swan, pike, and crayfish.’ ” 

Now Diaghilev’s mind begins seething with plans, each more grandiose 
than the last. He dreams of arranging an “exhibition of Finnish and 
Russian painters, of organizing a group of people with advanced ideas, 
of founding his own review.” And also it seems to him “that the oppor- 
tune moment has come to rally together into a group, able to take its 
place in European Art.” Thus he writes to his friend Benois, and adds: 
“. . .I’m trying to organize a new group of people with advanced ideas. 
In the opinion of certain young painters who recently met at my house, 
we ought to arrange a show some time within the year, for which I shall 
be solely responsible, that is, not only for all the arrangements, but even 
to the very pictures we select. This exhibition is scheduled to take place 
from Jan. 15th to Feb. 15th, 1898, at the Stieglitz gallery. You can imagine 
the sort of people who ’re joining us: young St. Petersburgites, im- 
mensely enthusiastic Muscovites, Finns (aren’t they Russian, too?), as 
well as a few Russians established abroad: Alexandre Benois, Yukunchi- 
kova, Fedor Botkin.” 

On October 8th, 1897, he again wrote to Benois in connection with his 
art journal. “I’m frightfully busy, and really haven’t time to reply to 
your dear letter. You’ve already heard through Kostia [Somov] that I’m 
completely immersed in my schemes, each more grandiose than the last. 
At present I’m thinking of starting a periodical which will focus aU our 
artistic activities, and in which I can give reproductions of real paintings 
and frankly speak my mind. When that’s settled, I hope to organize a 
number of shows of contemporary work, under the auspices of our jour- 
nal, and also to include the most recent developments in appHed art from 
Moscow and Finland. You’ll guess, therefore, that I’m seeing the future 
through a magnifying glass. But for that I’ve need of help, and who 



4^ SERGE DIAGHIEEV 

should I turn to but you? Anyway, I count on you, as I would on myself, 
and with reason, eh? The least I shall expect from you is five artides a 
year, but what about hardly matters so long as they’re good and interest- 
ing ! Kostia has already offered his help, and promises a cover design, and 
a poster. How talented he is, by the way, and how he delights and inter- 
ests me. He swears that all my enthusiasm is hot air. Well, why not, dear 
friends, when it’s so pleasant to be carried away? You wouldn’t believe 
the progress he’s made; the things he’s done this summer are simply 
magnificent. I expect no less from you. The Finns are remarkable, and 
two or three youngsters have an extraordinary delicacy and color-sense. 
They’re serious competitors, watch out or they’ll beat you. I’m all im- 
patience to see what you’re sending me. The Princess [Princess M. 
Temshev — The World of Art’s first patron] is in St. Petersburg, and 
we’re the greatest friends. She’s cramful of energy, and money, too, I be- 
lieve. She intends to buy some pictures at the Scandinavian exhibition, 
and asks me to advise her. I certainly won’t encourage her to buy duds. 
In the near future I’m expecting Zorn, Thaulow and Edelfeld. Just imag- 
ine, the two former are going to stay with me. The Princess has 
commissioned Zorn to paint her portrait. When I was in Fin lan d, I spent 
all my time cracking up Kostia. Very soon I mean to show her all he’s 
done; and trust me. I’ll see she buys some of his things. 

“What do you think of Vrubel? Anyhow, write to me soon how all rbis 
strikes you. I haven’t yet decided what the review is to be called. What 
about Ober? Couldn’t we get him to exhibit (ordinary size canvases)?” 

Diaghilev’s grandiose schemes eventually came to fruition, but at the 
cost of how much effort and disillusion! His dream, however, of “found- 
ing an advanced group” went unrealized, and it was his very “friends” 
who were responsible. 

“When I stated, two years ago,” he wrote to Benois, “that I would have 
nothing to do with Russian painters, beyond making them pay for their 
outrageous caddishness, I was absolutely right. In all my dealings with 
French, German, English, Dutch, Scottish and Scandinavian painters, I 
have never encountered anything like the difficulties I found in dealing 
with the home product. And now even you and Bakst have to put your 
spoke in, and add to them. Bakst, with that mercenary spirit so typical 
of him, demands I do nothing the first year about forming the ‘group,’ 
and yet wants me, at my own cost, and with my own efforts, to organize 
an exhibition of young Russian painters. Serov took up the same stand, 
but for different reasons. He’s sick of bureaucracy, and loathes ‘groups.’ 

I must say that Bakst is at the back of it all. I know it ’s all Greek to you, 
but honestly, up to the neck in mud as I am, I don’t feel the heart to talk 
about it. Anyway, I’m sick of everyone and everything. There hasn’t been 
a decent, disinterested person among them. They can’t separate their 
pockets from their artistic principles. A worthless, cowardly lot, that’s 
what they are.” 



PRELUDES TO **THE WORLD OF ABT” 43 

Still more disillusioning, however, was to prove the foundation of the 
journal. 

In January, 1898, a second exhibition of Finnish and Russian painters, 
organized by Ehaghilev, was opened at the Stieglitz Museum in St. 
Petersburg. It was a brilliant, magnificent success, but how much effort, 
negotiation, argument, and reconciliation it had demanded of its organ- 
izer! This exhibition proved an event of great importance to Russian 
art, and paved the way for numerous developments. 

The public reacted in diverse ways, but always passionately whether 
for or against it. A. P. Ostroumova-Lebedeva, whom no one could suspect 
of being personally favorable to Diaghilev, notes in her memoirs: 

“The exhibition of Finnish painters, which also included a nxunber of 
Russians, impressed me as being exceedingly alive and stimulating. Serov 
is wonderful. His portrait of the Grand Duke on a black horse is a real 
masterpiece. Then Purvit, Korovin, A. Vasnetzov and Levitan! What 
names and what paintings! How it uplifts one to look at them! Then 
there is the famous trio, Alexandre Benois, Bakst and Somov. Repin’s 
opinion on the latter was, ‘It’s stupid, it’s done for effect.’ ” 

A great many other visitors went away enthusiastic, but one also heard 
others repeating Repin’s words — ^“it’s stupid, it’s done for effect,” as well 
as another word, which they applied to anything new, living, that fell 
outside their accepted, really moribund, academic standards — the word 
“decadent.” 

Now, with this exhibition, began the onslaught on The World of Art 
and heaven alone knows how much mud and opprobrium was slung at 
Diaghilev and his friends. Suddenly the swamp had come alive, and in all 
directions terrified frogs could be heard croaking disapprovingly at those 

who had actually dared to be talented, new, and themselves. And it 

was this onslaught, or rather this mean-spirited baiting, which really 
occasioned the bellicose tone of the review. 

In founding The World of Art Diaghilev’s idea had been to start a 
simple artistic review. But being attacked, he had, in spite of himself, to 
turn it into a weapon for both attack and defense. 

This exhibition had many consequences, one in particular being the 
large amount of space devoted to Finnish artists isx The World of Art. 
It was no accident that the very first issues contained reproductions from 
paintings by Edelfeld, Blomsted, Gallon, Ernefeldt, Enkel and Galonen, 
or that Diaghilev wrote of them: “In spite of the marked divergences ob- 
servable among these painters, in spite of the opposition of the two trends 
which split them into painters with a nationalistic oudook and those who 
follow the aristocrats of the West, they still manifest a common view- 
point, fully conscious of its collective strength. And this strength their 
art reflects. One feels it in their innate love of the stern national type, in 
their touching affection for their arid landscapes, and in their enthusiasm 
for their old legends. It is just these nationalistic elements in their paint- 



44 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

ing, which, though they have so long held up the development o£ our 
own painting, have enabled them to gather their forces so that now they 
can stand erect. And that because they have been able to enter deeply into 
the soul of their people, instead of photographically reproducing their less 
attractive aspects. 

"Edelfeld’s illustrations (and they can be nationalist enough), Gallon’s 
stage settings, Galonen’s interiors, all reveal how profoundly these artists 
have penetrated into and expressed the spirit of their people. But what 
captivates one especially in their works is their mastery of their art, their 
original technique which need fear no comparison with that of the West. 
All served their apprenticeship in Paris, and there is not one for whom 
drawing is that rock on which so many good painters have come to grief.” 

Even more clearly did Diaghilev express himself in an article pub- 
lished in 1903, again in The World of Art. It is a particularly interesting 
article, because it adumbrates an attitude which only found complete ex- 
pression when the Russian Ballet was in full swing . . . the idea of “the 
future.” 

“Here is a country which has no artistic past, no kind of art history 
at all: everything it has is in the present, or rather in the future, a near 
future rich with promise. . . . This little Finnish exhibition is made vivid 

by the strivings of an unfolding, youthful freshness In spite of their 

environment, these painters live a life that can be led only by races in 
whom immense reserves of artistic energy still remain unexpended. 

“That charm does not reside in any single work by one of them, Zim- 
berg, Rissanen, Enkel, Engberg or Ernefeldt, but in their common genius, 
and in the unique impulse of their youthful art. 

“But though a great love of their country, and its people, shines in their 
works, it is something totally different from the German’s adoration of 
his ‘Fatherland’ or the Frenchman’s devotion to his ‘co-citizens.’ What the 
Finnish painters have discovered and learned to love in their country, is 
its beauty as seen through the astonishing charm of each individual artis- 
tic temperament . . . that is where their chief merit lies. 

“Every one of their exhibitions is an enchantment, whereas we, giants 
in comparison with that small northern land inhabited by such near 
neighbors, can feel only shame for our lethargy and the poverty of our 
artistic life.” 

This exhibition, too, had other consequences worthy of mention. It 
gathered together into a compact group the young school of Russian 
painters and made them conscious of their significance and power, while 
on the other hand it provided striking proof of Diaghilev’s organizing 
abilities to his Maecenases, Princess Tenishev and Sava Mamontov, and 
proved his capacity to undertake the editing of an important periodical 
devoted to the arts. It, in fact, decided the fate of The World of Art. 
Princess Tenishev became responsible for publishing the review, which 



PRELUDES TO “THE WORLD OF ART” 45 

Diaghilev was to edit, and Mamontov provided the financial backing, the 
agreement being signed on March i8th, 1898. 

Diaghilev’s friends welcomed the new magazine warmly, Alexandre 
Benois writing: “I sincerely hope, that one way or another, we can man- 
age by our common efforts to knock a little sound sense into the public’s 
head. We must be positive and courageous, but only after carefully think- 
ing things out; our outlook must be broad but uncompromising. There 
must be no despising of the past, even that which is near to us, but we 
must be pitiless to all its debris, however fashionable, admired, or likely 
to procure us a facile or resounding success. In connection with the 
applied arts, we must avoid everything artificial, baroque, hybrid and 
pretentious, but do our best to propagate, like Morris, principles based 
on sound reason, or put otherwise, real beauty. Why not call the magazine 
The Renaissance, and as its program, declare merciless war on everything 
‘decadent’.? True, here in Russia, we call decadent everything that is 
really fine, but of course it’s not that naive ignorance I’m thinking of, 
but true decadence, which menaces all beauty with destruction. My whole 
being revolts against all that is fashionable, against fashion itself. Our 
mission, it seems to me, is to devote ourselves to something greater, more 
important, and in all justice I must admit that Seriozha with his exhibi- 
tion has struck just the right note. We must not yield an inch, but neither 
must we ever rush headlong forward. But above all, I hope to God, he 
can stand up to Mamontov, who, important and respected though he may 
be, is all the more dangerous in that he lacks the least vestige of taste. 
Yes, Seriozhinka will have his work cut out! But tcU him I’m with him 
heart and soul, and that more than anything else, I wish him strength” 

This letter is significant, for it expresses the views, unrevolutionary 
though they be, of one of the most “radical” collaborators of The World 
of Art. 

On the other hand, V. Nouvel wrote as follows: 

“I am now spending all my evenings with Seriozha. We are all keyed 
up and excited about his magazine, and working at fever heat. Mean- 
while we spend all our time passionately arguing. It absorbs me com- 
pletely. Perhaps it’s all mean and petty (!) but there it is, and I won’t, I 
can’t, violate my nature. I shall only move on to better things, when I feel 
a natural irresistible need to do so.” 

Yes, Benois was right in saying, “Seriozhinka will have his work cut 
out.” Soon enough it was obvious that the only person he could count 
on was Dima Filosofov, for Shura Benois, who had welcomed the maga- 
zine with such warmth, cooled off quickly, and on July 5th, we find him 
writing: 

“Three years ago all I dreamed of was starting a magazine, and I used 
to subscribe to quantities of them. But since, I’ve realized I dislike all the 
existing ones, and again, that the thought of helping to start a new one 
leaves me cold. There is something about a magazine that inevitably 



46 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

reduces everything to a common denominator. We mustn’t forget, how- 
ever, that there are lots of young artists (and old ones, too) to whom it 
may be of the greatest service. That’s why, in principle, I’m in favor. 
But from that to warmly supporting it, there’s a long distance between. 
If I were in St. Petersburg, I don’t doubt that by force of argument, the 
ice round me would somehow have been melted (fine metaphor!), but 
here, far from you all, it only hardens and gets thicker.” 

Even “champagne” Valetchka had lost much of his enthusiasm, and 
on July ist was writing to Benois: “Dima and Seriozha have gone into 
the country until Aug. ist, and as a result all the excitement round the 
magazine has died down for a time. I understand only too well your 
lack of enthusiasm about our review. I should feel the same way myself, 
no doubt, if I had some other interest, but I haven’t (I’ve given up music, 
and it seems to me I’ve done right). The magazine provided an excuse 
for long abstract discussions, which I enjoy, but as we’ve stopped having 
them now, I cling to the idea. When it comes to practical details, how- 
ever, I get bored and begin yawning. It seems I’m fated to think and 
argue about things no one wants and no one has any need of. I assure 
you Td much rather be doing that than all we’re doing at present. This 
business of trying to raise the general public to one’s own level, comes to 
exactly the same thing as lowering oneself to theirs. But anyway, what 
do I care about the general public? If I do take part in all this activity, 
it’s only to help those round me, and make my own life more endurable.” 

What Diaghilev’s own state of mind was like, abandoned by all his 
“friends,” at the most critical moment of his career, we know him from a 
letter addressed to Benois and dated June and, 1898: “When you’re build- 
ing a house. Heaven alone knows how much fuss and worry you’re lay- 
ing up for yourself. Now it’s beams, now bricks, now wallpaper, and an 
infinity of trifles. All you know is you’ll have a fine housefront because 
you’ve trust in your architect’s talent, and his friendship. But then, exactly 
the opposite happens, for when, covered with dirt and sweat, you creep 
out of the scaffolding and timbers, your architect turns up and reports 
he’s incompetent to build a whole house, and anyway is there any point 
in going on with the thing, and so on, and so forth? Then and then only, 
do you really realize how filthy the bricks are, how the glue stinks, how 

stupid the workmen are And that, roughly, was the effect your letter 

had on me. If even Valetchka started to do something about it, it was 
because he realized all it stood for, all that had to be done. But you, you 
begin by discussing whether it’s necessary, whether it would be right to 
offer a welcoming hand to the old lot or Vasnetzov 

“In exaedy the same way that I can’t demand that my parents shall 
love me, so I haven’t the right to demand that you support me morally 
and physically, by contributing your blessing and the fruits of your labors. 
Put shordy, I can’t beg you, or prove my case to you, and as God is my 
witness, there isn’t time to give you a good shaking — a moment’s care- 



PRELUDES TO "THE WORLD OF ART” 47 

lessness and the whole thing will fall about my ears! That’s all. I hope 
these amiable scoldings will have their effect, that you’ll stop behaving 
like a total stranger, and that you’ll slip on an overall and come and help 
us stir the quicklime.” 

Nothing happened, however. Diaghilev and Filosofov had to stir the 
quicklime alone. Nevertheless, in spite of everything and everyone, the 
first number of The World of Art appeared on November loth, 1898. 




PART TWO: "THE WORLD OF ART’ EPOCH 




CHAPTER IV 


**THE WORLD OF ART” EPOCH 
Kussian Art and Culture before The World of At 

I HAVE called this part of my book The World of Art epoch, because 
it represents a definite phase in Diaghilev’s life. Nevertheless, the tide can 
be read in a wider sense, given the fact that The World of Art marked an 
epoch, and a great epoch, both in regard to Russian art and Russian 
culture. 

It is impossible to overestimate the significance of this magazine of the 
arts; indeed, such was its importance that words alone cannot do it justice. 

Today, it is almost impossible to cast the mind back to a period as re- 
mote as were the ’90’s of the last century, particularly in Russia; an epoch 
in which that country, for the first time in its history, had a review de- 
voted to the arts in the fullest, most generous interpretation of that word. 

That springtide burgeoning of Russian art and culture, of a high artistic 
level, which marked the early years of the nineteenth century was fol- 
lowed by a period of decadence, more and more accentuated with the 
years — a. decadence visible even towards the end of Pushkin’s life, and 
which caused him to write, “the new generation cannot find tittie even to 
talk of poetry”: and that “the merchants, to whom ‘an earthen pot’ is 
dearer than a ‘marble God,’ for whom art exists but for purely utilitarian 
ends, must be driven from the temple.” 

And indeed, an “iron age,” was beginning, an age which boldly pro- 
claimed that “boots are more than Shakespeare.” Had Russia, in Pushkin’s 
time, attained to such a perfection of culture, as witness its masterpieces 
and even its smallest trifles, only to fall so low? Was it fair that two 
decades of light and culture should have to be paid for at the cost of 
nearly half a century of decadence, and that not the so-called “decadence” 
pilloried by the enemies of progress, but an almost final impoverishment 
of art. 

Round the ’40’s a gleam still reaches us, the afterglow of the blazing 
sun of Pushkin’s time; but from the ’50’s on, the shadows gradually en- 
croach until the whole of Russia’s artistic culture is finally extinguished. 
If I emphasize so much the word artistic, it is because in the ’6o’s, the 
’70’s and ’8o’s, great poets and painters (and genuises, too) alike appear, 
but they were always alone and isolated, and their light did little to 
pierce the mortal surrounding gloom. Culture had ceased to exist, as we 
knew it in Pushkin’s time, with music perhaps the sole exception. 

Two trends clearly predominate in the latter part of the nineteenth 

51 



5Z SERGE DIAGHBLEV 

century: on the one hand that o£ an old-fashioned classicism deriving 
from Pushkin, and on the other the crassest utilitarianism. True, there 
seems at times a sort of moral beauty in the vital necessity of the second, 
essentially anti-aesthetic though it was. But the first fades completely 
away, a pale reflection of the culture of Pushkin’s era, whose true light, 
extinguished, leaves a sapless, traditional imitation, a formal bureaucratic 
art, lacking all beauty and vitality. 

But now a new school sprang into being, “Vagrants” they called them- 
selves, after those traveling exhibitions which in the past had reflected 
similar tendencies, with purely philanthropic, utilitarian aims, calculated 
to promote “good feeling” and help the people, that luckless people de- 
prived of liberty and the right to think for themselves. A school which 
even dared to say to the poet: 

“You can refrain from being a poet. 

But citizen you must be!” 

Art in those days meant fulfilling noble, and in its way, fine and heroic 
deeds of civic duty, but how dismal and drab were those heroics, and 
how depressing it is to turn the pages of the fat reviews of the time, 
printed in hideous type on cheap paper! How depressing to read their 
sapless, lame verses, and gaze at endless reproductions, wretched falsifica- 
tions of mean lives, each more drab and well-meaning than the last. 
We might say, paraphrasing Oscar Wilde, that art had ceased caring 
about the how and only bothered about the what. Put differently, all that 
seemed to matter was the subject, not the treatment. Thus beauty dis- 
appeared from life and art — Skilled by propaganda. 

But, as I say, happy exceptions did exist, a few lone figures dared brave 

the current, though often only to go under The whole feeling of the 

time was opposed to art. 

Nevertheless, a longing for art, beauty, and “the feast of life” though 
timid at first, waxed bolder with the ’8o’s. By the ’90’s, that longing could 
be stifled no longer. New painters, new poets, came into being, with 
totally different orientations. 

The World of Art a% a significant factor 

When Diaghilev, at eighteen, first settled in St. Petersburg, the ground 
for The World of Art had already been cleared and a new and nearing 
epoch was giving form and content to a fresh orientation which was 
rapidly growing sentient. Soon everything was to be swept before it. 
Russia was already prepared for its artistic renaissance. 

Diaghilev’s great merit lies not in having opened up new paths by 
means of his magazine The World of Art and his exhibitions of painting, 
but in grouping together the new school of painters, and in enabling 
them in some degree, to embody and formulate their ideas. All in all, he 



*'the world of art” epoch 53 

made it possible to continue these new paths, though he did not carve 
them out. But, first and foremost. The World of Art was a prime neces- 
sity to painters, musicians and evfen writers, and as such, its importance 
can hardly be exaggerated. 

To The World of Art must be attributed the whole of the cultural 
renaissance which occurred in Russia at the beginning of this century, one 
of its main contributions being the manner in which it raised the whole 
standard of publishing. Never before had really fine editions existed in 
Russia, editions that were helped immensely by succeeding developments 
in the graphic arts, and the increasing technical perfection of color 
printing. 

This group, organized by Diaghilev, stimulated the birth of other 
groupings. A. P. Nourok and V. F. Nouvel, both collaborators, founded 
the Contemporary Music Society, and V. V. Rosanov, O. S. Merejkovsky, 
N. M. Minsky, Mme. Zinaide Hippius, and E>. V , Filosofov, all contribu- 
tors to The World of Art, founded a religious and philosophical group 
with its own journal, entitled The Neu/ Way, Meanwhile, with The 
World of Art for inspiration, new interest began to be focused on the 
treasures of old Russia, and a veritable cult developed for the masterpieces 
of architecture and sculpture which adorn the two capitals, St. Petersburg 
and Moscow. As a result The Artistic Treasures of Russia was born, which 
laid particular emphasis on the past, and devoted much of its interest to 
the applied arts of the period. Its first editor was A. N. Benois, and it was 
succeeded by The Forgotten Years, and finally by Apollo, the spiritual 
successor to The World of Art. 

It is impossible to search out all the proliferations of The World of 
Art, for its tentacles went on penetrating ever more deeply into Russian 
life, creating a new society, a new culture, a new outlook on art, and even 
on the universe 

Yet, while grouping together artists and those active in the arts, and 
while providing them with an opportunity for embodying their dreams 
and tracing new paths. The World of Art was creating an atmosphere, 
an environment, particularly encouraging to the arts. Never before had 
Russia had so large an elite of intellectuals, of people knowledgeable and 
interested in the arts. 

Another great merit of the new review was the manner in which it 
organized immense exhibitions, on which Diaghilev himself could draw 
for material. And whereas an exhibition shown in Moscow, St. Petersburg, 
Helsingfors, Paris or BerUn, could only be accessible to die inhabitants of 
those capitals. The W^orld of Art, containing numerous excellent repro- 
ductions, drawn from these very exhibitions, could circulate all through 
Russia, and that with greater success, seeing its cheapness, since a yearly 
subscription of ten rubles entitled subscribers to twenty-four issues. 



54 


SERGE DIAGHUJEV 


Aims and main trends of The World of Art 

What exactly were the aims of The World of Art? One would be hard 
put to it to find an answer which should clearly define the position it 
adopted. In our opinion it seems more satisfactory to talk of the content, 
and leave the theoretical discussion until later. 

The general orientation of The World of Art was passionately discussed 
during its existence, and perhaps even more once it had ceased publication. 

This is what Igor Grabar, one of the contributors, wrote on the matter : 
“Above all, it would be profoundly wrong to consider The World of Art, 
though an error frequendy made, as a sort of ideological and aesthetic 
front, composed of artists of the advanced groups, who, with a symboHsm 
borrowed from the West, opposed our native rationalism. 

“There never was, either in its dawn or evening twilight, a moment 
when The World of Art presented a common united front, whether 
political, social or even purely artistic. Nor, in any exhibition arranged by 
Diaghilev, even before his review was started, would one find a single 
painting that could be deemed incomprehensible, or provide an excuse, 
whether for the pubHc or critics, to cry ‘decadence,’ or even ‘symbolism.’ 
However, seeing that these exhibitions were a hundred times finer than 
anything shown at Mussard’s Mondays or The Society of St. Petersburg 
Painters or The Water-Color Society, these groups and their adherents 
began to attack him, and that was why he was assailed by almost univer- 
sal opprobrium. 

“The names of the European painters who exhibited at these shows is 
sufficient to prove the absence of any particular orientation. There was 
not one Symbolist among the Russian painters exhibiting, just as there 
was no symbolism among the first contributors to The World of Art, 

“According to a different viewpoint, as utterly false as the first, the con- 
tributors to The World of Art appear to have been suffering from an 
acute attack of ‘historicity’ and ‘retrospectivist’ poisoning, and to have lost 
themselves amid the graphic arts. But if this poison had been as deadly 
as was claimed, surely there would have been no room for the most 
original of the new French painters in our review? And anyway, where 
is the ‘historicity’ of Vrubel or Serov? As to its devotion to the graphic 
arts, thanks to which they were to attain a rare perfection in Russia, that 
was but one form — admittedly prominent — of the multiple activities of 
our review, and the many artists gathered about it 

When Apollo succeeded The World of Art the greatest importance was 
attached by it to the part played by the first of our Russian art journals. 
Referring to the absence of a single viewpoint, or rather to The World 
of Art’s various eclecticisms, by which it managed to “reconcile irrcconcil- 
ables,” the editor, Vsevolod Dmitriev, naively and unreasonably considers 
these inconsistencies the prime cause of its premature decease. 

“A mere ten years ago The World of Art seemed to stretch out to the 



**THE WORLD OF ART” EPOCH 55 

very horizon, and to be dowered with everlasting, illimitable, creative 
capacities of renewal There, at its exhibitions, Dobuzhinsky’s exqui- 

site accuracy and detachment hung side by side with Maliavin’s un- 
assuageable passion. The cerebral Somov with his hard, cold, acid line, 
found himself perfeedy complemented by Serov’s picturesque broad sim- 
plicity. But if they complemented each other, that proves a sort of under- 
lying unity? No, for that same The World of Art made us participate 
in things which seemed almost done for a wager, such as trying to link 
Bakst and Surikov together; Borovikosky and Cezanne. . . . All these 
efforts,” in V. Dmitriev’s words, with their mutual contradictions, “led 
The World of Art into a blind alley, to which, in any case, its retro- 
spective bias was surely guiding it.” 

While V. Dmitriev sees the Achilles’ heel of the review in its ideology 
and eclecticism, N. E. Radlov, in the same number of Apollo thinks, and 
probably with more reason, that the strength of Diaghilev’s review lay 
in its tendency to draw upon a multiplicity of ideologies and trends. 
Worth quoting here is the beginning of an article, devoted to one of 
Diaghilev’s collaborators, E. E. Lanceret. “Whatever the judgment of 
posterity may be concerning the painters connected with The World of 
Art, their function as an educative influence will be rated infinitely higher 
than their practical achievement as artists. 

“As masters they have done infinitely more than as painters. Their 
opposition to the ‘sermon’ in paint expresses itself in ‘sermons’ so elo- 
quent and fine, that all their practice, valuable though it is, seems only 
the illustration and application of a number of ‘examples.’ 

“We must always bear in mind the many new worlds which have 
had to be rediscovered by art, and those which have had to be thrown 
open to the public The theater, book-making, art criticism, the mod- 

ern art of the West, the inexhaustible reservoir of the applied arts, Russian 
architecture, and especially that of ‘Old St. Petersburg.’ 

“What was effected in these respects by the group of painters asso- 
ciated with The World of Art is no doubt very unequal both in quantity 
and quality, yet none the less history will praise it for having revealed 
these new worlds! Whenever the slightest progress was made, which 
brought the public nearer to a real understanding of modern art, of our 
inheritance from the past. The World of Art was primarily responsible 
for it. . . . 

“This cultural art, which would have been a surprising phenomenon 
in the Russia of the second half of the nineteenth century, coincides 
with the apparition of ntimerous problems in aesthetics, new themes, 
new forms of expression so far undreamed, and stylizations of many a 
kind. But what helped especially, it must be admitted, was the complete 
absence of any kind of specialization, in many cases deriving from inade- 
quate technique. These art pioneers transmitted their discoveries to a 
generation whose artistic culture was no longer so many-sided, but 



SERGE DIAGHIEEV 


56 

among whom were to be found a number o£ specialists who only needed 
to begin to dig, in order to unearth the artistic treasures which their 
predecessors had discovered. 

Finally, to quote from another issue of Apollo of the same year, I find 
certain lines I myself could have wished to have written: “We got 
more and more to love The World of Art, because a unifying thread ran 
through all its exhibitions, and because of the artistic novelty of every- 
thing it showed. 

“From the time of the ‘Vagrants,’ with their clean-cut, definite pro- 
gram, no one, until Diaghilev appeared, had managed to organize the 
painters in so homogeneous and convincing a group. That whole was 
essentially a work of art, for though individual contributions, it is true, 
were at times unequal in value, the whole could lay claim to artistic 
unity. Their experiments, often daring, but always deeply interesting, 
were informed by a single spirit in pursuit of a common purpose.” 

But y£The World of Art group manifested a single spirit and common 
purpose, revealing a clear-cut trend — ^for one there was, in spite of all that 
was said to the contrary — ^it was entirely indebted for it to the complex, 
though homogeneous personality of its main organizer and founder. 
Serge Diaghilev. 

And though he had never in his life painted a picture, nevertheless 
that “whole” of which Apollo speaks “as an artistic unity,” must be con- 
sidered Diaghilev’s great contribution to the arts. 

The cult of Personality 

What was unique ia The World of Art, and what gave it direction, 
was its search for new paths, new formulas in the arts. But even more 
praiseworthy perhaps, though less obvious or capable of definition 
(whence perhaps its real importance), was its awareness, the originality 
of its aesthetic standards where both life and art were concerned, its 
search for beauty, beauty unalloyed, in its own right, freed from all ques- 
tions of utility. Literary and historical as the aesthetic standards of The 
World of Art may have been, they made an impact, and propagated 
the new doctrine of aesthetics. 

That this tendency to approach art through the history of culture, was 
very marked at the time, in Diaghilev and his collaborators, many articles 
in the review clearly reveal. But even in this approach, as in the attitude 
of the group to the art of the past, it was possible to gauge a new view- 
point, which demanded of every work that it be valued or revalued in 
relation to contemporary needs. What was new in it was its negation 
of traditional standards and accepted canons. This attitude is clearly ex- 
pressed in Diaghilev’s first editorial, introducing the review. 

Referring to his own generation’s passion for “modernity,” for seeing 
present and past, with the same eyes, Diaghilev writes: “Those who 



**THE WORLD OF ARX” EPOCH 57 

accuse us of blindly loving whatever is modern, and of despising the past, 
have not the slightest conception of our real point of view. I say and 
repeat, that our first masters and our Olympian gods were Giotto, Shake- 
speare and Bach, yet true it is that we have dared place Puvis de 
Chavannes, Dostoevsky and Wagner at their sides. Nevertheless, this 
is a perfectly logical development of our fundamental position. Having 
rejected every accepted standard, each and every one of these artists 
has been weighed up strictly in accordance with what we, personally, 
demand. We have gazed at the past through a modern prism, and have 
worshiped only what we, personally, found worthy of adoration. We 
have submerged ourselves in the past, and have sought to evaluate 
Shakespeare according to our personal development and understanding, 
exaedy as we have done with Wagner and Bocklin. What we demand, 
first and foremost, is independence and freedom, and though we reserve 
for ourselves the right to judge, we do not in any way seek to modify 
the artist’s standards.” 

And again: “...Could we make our credo the faith of our fathers 
and ancestors, we, in our search for individuality, we who have faith 
in nothing but what we personally believe? This is what marks us out 
from all others, for whoever desires to come closer to us must first re- 
linquish the thought that, hke Narcissus, we love none but ourselves. 
Our standards are wider, more comprehensive, than those of the past; 
nevertheless, they can only be applied through us and our own person- 
alities, and to that extent, therefore, our self-love may be said to exist. 
Yet, if, incautiously, one of us may some day have said that we love our- 
selves as we love the Deity, we must interpret it as meaning that all 
things must be contemplated through our own prism, and that only 
within ourselves can be found the divine authority which will help 
us to resolve our most terrifying enigmas.” 

In this attitude to art, which manifests an individualism so deep-rooted 
that it verges on the extremest subjectivism, we find the Alpha and Omega 
of the inspiration guiding The World of Art. It is the cult of personality, 
rooted in a fundamental viewpoint that art must express an artist’s in- 
dividuality. It was a view shared by the majority of The World of Art's 
collaborators, a view unremittingly proclaimed by them, particularly 
in the first years. Diaghilev, still in the same article, refers to it as follows : 

“. . . At the root of the whole world of creative activity, as its primary 
cause, sole link in all its divergences, is the King omnipotent, the one 
creative force, the human personality, the single star that lights our dark- 
ness, and silences the warring schools of those who fabricate new art 
religions.” 

And again: “Beauty in art is feeling, told in images. It matters to us 
but little what those images are, for the importance of a work lies not 
in itself ^ but in its revelation of a creative personality. The history of art 

1 What a risky, heretical thing to sa?^. 



58 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

is not a list of masterpieces, but a series of records consecrated to the 
expression of human genius as seen through works of art . . . the im- 
portance and significance of a wor\ of art lies in how clearly and sharply 
it defines the personality of its creator, and the degree to which it estab- 
lishes contact with the personality of the beholder" 

Today the part played by the creative personality, in the creation 
of works of art, is generally admitted, though all are agreed it is not 
the only factor. But under the influence of his friend, D. Filosofov, him- 
self influenced by the couple, Merejkovsky and Mmc. Zinaide Hippius, 
(the facts themselves are easily proved), Diaghilev was considerably over- 
stating his case, possibly because his predecessors had gone too far in the 
opposite direction. 

This concept of EHaghilev’s relating to the importance of personality 
in art was taken up and carried further by a number of his collaborators, 
and to such a degree, in fact, that at times it fringes on the absurd. Thus 
V. Brussov, in an otherwise excellent article “Unnecessary Truth,” pub- 
lished in 1902 in The World of Art, very convincingly takes up the de- 
fense of theatrical conventions, against the ultra-realistic trends of the 
Moscow Art Theater. The article is excellent, as I have said, but how 
confused and strangely it begins! 

“Art is born in the very moment an artist seeks to make manifest his 
innermost sensations. Where no such effort takes place, there is no crea- 
tion; while, by revealing his innermost sensations, a man ceases to be an 
artist. The artist, in creating, transfigures his very soul, and in this 
transmutation lies all his artistic aesthetic delight. A work of art is the 
artist’s spirit, his soul, his feelings and sensations. The soul is the content 
of a work of art but its legend, its concept are its form. Its images, sounds 
and colors are the substance it employs. What is the content of Goethe’s 
Faust? And what is the legend Goethe uses, and the philosophic, moral 
concepts that round the play out? They are its form- Faust, Mephistoph- 
clcs, Gretchen and other figures focus the lines. They are the substance 
Goethe employs. So, too, a piece of sculpture represents the very soul of 
the sculptor at the moment it is conceived: its subject is its form; the 
marble, bronze or wax its substance.” 

To discover “aesthetic delight” in the revelation of innermost depths, 
and to see art as the “making manifest” of an artist’s innermost sensations, 
I must confess, seems to me somewhat excessive. But yet, all that he 
says about the “soul” does not necessarily relate to art; and again, can 
one possibly agree to limit art, creation, and aesthetic delight in this 
manner? ...Admitting that “personality” plays an important part in 
the creation of a work of art, and that it is necessarily reflected in the 
product, are we justified in claiming that personality exists nowhere 
but in the product, and that it alone characterizes art, and gives aesthetic 
feeling its value? If indeed this could be claimed, then many things would 
be art which are totally unrelated to it, since personality reveals itself 



"the world of art” epoch 59 

in all things made by man and not alone in the arts. Besides, given 
such a standard, much that we think beautiful and eternal would need 
to be excluded. But again, where in all these lucubrations on personality 
in art do we find even a hint that creation is always revelation, a startling 
upsurge, always bigger than the artist’s personality, always a sort of 
miraculous plus, and to such an extent that there are times when one 
is tempted to define the act of creation of a work of art, not as an achieve- 
ment by, but through the artist, by a force loftier than himself, which 
guides his chisel, pen or brush? 

Yet what is even more inexplicable and strange is that such a point 
of view should be defended, not by Filosofov or Diaghilev, but by Brus- 
sov, a poet and one of the pillars of our new-born Symbolist Russian 
poetry. Indeed, so powerful was the cult of “personality” at the beginning 
of the twentieth century, that it might well have seemed that everything 
was to be sacrificed to it. 

The Program of The World of Art 

With its Nietzschean cult of the “individual” (we must remember the 
discussions at Bogdanovskoye), The World of Art was addressing its 
public in a language with which that public was still unacquainted. And 
indeed there was much that needed saying in the six years of its existence, 
though what it said was often contradictory. But that was natural enough, 
given the fact that the review was a living organism, and as such con- 
tinually changing and growing. Added to which was the fact that no 
ideological bias united the staff at the editor’s council table, and that every 
contributor was at liberty to say what he thought. Indeed, The World of 
Art was averse to any kind of sectarianism, its chief object being, 
not to encourage one or other sectarian viewpoint, but to educate the 
artistic sense of the Russian pubUc. It was the world of art which 
Diaghilev hoped to reveal to it, a pure, self-centered art, in all its 
forms and through all its ramifications. 

These aims were proclaimed in the “Program” which was attached 
to every subscription slip inserted in the first issue. 

“The review will comprise three sections: I. The Arts; II, Applied 
Arts; III, Art Chronicle. 

“Part I will be devoted to Russian and foreign masters of all periods, 
in so far as their works relate to, and throw light on, the contemporary 
spirit in art. 

“Part II will particularly devote itself to the work of individual crafts- 
men, with special reference to outstanding examples of ancient Russian 
art. With the object of improving the standard of our native industrial 
art, all Russian artists will be asked to link themselves in this common 
task. 



6o SERGE DIAGHCELEV 

“The literary contributions to both sections will be mainly of a critical 
nature, covering every art manifestation of interest, whether at home 
or in the West. Exhibitions will be analyzed, music chronicled, the latest 
art journals reviewed, etc. The brothers Vasnetzov, V. Polenov, H. Pole- 
nova, P. Sokolov, V. Serov, M. Nesterov, I. Levitan, I. Ostroumov, C. 
Korovin, S. Korovin, M. Yakunchikova, Alexander Benois, S. Maliutin, 
Ober, L. Bakst, M. Vrubel, C. Somov, A. Golovin, Prince Trubetzkoy, 
I. Davidova and others will be among the review’s collaborators. We are 
assured also of the co-operation of the Finnish artists Edelfeld, Ernefeldt, 
Gallen, Blomsted, etc. 

“The first issues will contain articles by P. D. Boborikin, Prof. A. 
Prakhov, Prince S. Volkonsky, D. Merejkovsky, V. S. Solovyev, C. Bal- 
mont, Mme. Zinaide Hippius, N. Minsky, I. Yassinsky, V. Rosanov 
and others. 

“Published by Princess Tenishev and S. Mamontov. 

“Editor: S. Diaghilev.” 

Later in the year a further statement was published to the effect that, 
beginning with the new century, a further section would be devoted 
to literature and literary criticism. 

Neither this prospectus nor Diaghilev’s main editorial articles can be 
considered in any way bellicose, nevertheless, they soon aroused fierce 
opposition. Today it is difficult to imagine the fierce abuse flung at The 
World of Art, or the filth hurled by respectable “fat reviews” and the 
Press. 

It was a challenge impossible to ignore, and one which compelled 
The World of Art to define its position. Two hostile camps sprang up, 
those for the new journal and those against. And what especially exacer- 
bated the division was the R6pin incident. 

The RSpin incident 

Ilya Repin, that talented and most important figure among the “Va- 
grants,” a leading influence in the Academy of Arts, and altogether of 
wider tolerance than his comrades, in his fear of being called “backward” 
or branded conservative, warmly defended the new movement, so con- 
temptuously called “decadent.” In The World of Art, for instance, we see 
him testifying to the following effect: “All who now feel fear for the 
future of art will assuredly one day be saying: ‘Yes, it is a legitimate 
factor, it cannot be gainsaid.’ Then this strange movement will be seen as 
the revelation of a new creative impulse, and will be accorded full citizen 
rights. Yes, my friends, all this struggle is futile. Your Chinese principles 
will get you nowhere.” 

Diaghilev, to whom talent, real talent, was of more value and greater 
importance than any “movement,” considered Repin to be one of Russia’s 



“the world of art” epoch 6t 

greatest painters, and begged him to collaborate on The World of Art, 
a request which was warmly accepted. Thus, the very first issues con- 
tained a number o£ colored reproductions of Repin’s paintings, while 
the tenth issue was devoted entirely to Repin’s work. But now events 
began to force Repin into a completely opposite position. For, on the 
one hand. The World of Art inspired such unanimous and almost in- 
decent opposition, that R^pin began to feel somewhat frightened, and to 
doubt whether a few new friends were worth the loss of so many. Again, 
it was impossible for him to remain indifferent to The World of Arfs 
merciless attacks on the Academy and “Vagrants,” attacks which made 
his position very difficult with his academical colleagues. What brought 
the issue to a head was a note, evidently by A. Nourok, as follows: 
“Whenever a new museum is opened, it is of course impossible to guar- 
antee that nothing mediocre shall be included; nevertheless, precautions 
should be taken to omit works beneath contempt, or those which com- 
promise the creative impulse of our nation. Works of this kind, totally 
devoid of even historic importance, should be removed both energetically 
and swifdy. We therefore recommend that the following paintings shall 
forthwith be removed from our National Museum” — after which fol- 
lowed a long list, proscribing works by Aivazovsky, C. Makovski, MoUer, 
Flavitzky, Kotarbinsky, Jacoby, Sedov, etc. 

Thereupon, Repin broke with The World of Art publicly, in a letter 
published in The "Niva? In this letter, Repin deplored its “dilettantism” 
and “decadence,” and retaliated by attacking both the works it repro- 
duced and the exhibitions arranged by it. One of the choicest extracts 
refers to the Belgian painter, L6on-FrMeric, “whose dead, bloated chil- 
dren look as though they had been preserved in spirit, and whose utter 
ignorance of his art positively makes one sick.” Of another painter, Gallen, 
Repin wrote: “He is the image of the artist gone wild. It is the delirium 
of a madman, akin to the scrawlings of a savage.” Again: “Rodin’s sculp- 
ture bears a close relationship to the stone women found on Scythian 
tombs in South Russia, while the young Finns, and our own C. Somov, 
A. Benois, Maliutin, and other half-educated painters, with pious fervor, 
imitate the mannerisms of those who seek to make ignorance prevail, 
such as Monet, Rosier, Anctan, Conder, and other contemporary 
painters.” 

C. Somov was especially singled out for attack. He is a “poor crippled 
monster,” cries Repin, and goes on: “I know this talented youth, and can- 
not understand his hypocrisy in using such childishly foolish color, as 
for instance the green of his grass, or the idiocy of certain of his com- 
positions, full of misshapen dwarf monsters.” Alone of all Diaghilev’s 
collaborators, Serov, the academician, Riabushkin, Edelfeld, Golovin, 
I>avidov and Polenov were spared. 

Surprisingly enough, Repin ends his attack . . . “with my compliments 

2 The Field: A Week}y Review. (Ed.) 



6z SERGE DIAGHIEEV 

to Diaghilev,” but whether this was because he feared making a danger- 
ous foe, or because Diaghilev seemed to him more conservative than 
the others, or becaiase he, Diaghilev, highly appreciated Repin’s talent, 
we have no means of knowing. However, we have his testimony to the 
following effect: “In The World of Art what I particularly esteem in 
M. Diaghilev is his energy, his ability to get things done, search out 
exhibits, and enlist the sympathies of connoisseurs and owners of famous 
art works. These are rare gifts, and one cannot but value highly the efforts 
of this cultured young man in fostering so great a love for the arts. Yet, 
it is difficult to believe that so socially polished an individual, and one 
with such comprehensive tastes in every branch of the arts, including 
singing and music; that so distinguished an aristocrat, can tolerate such 
horrors in painting as the works of L&n-Frederic, Gallen, or that of 
such pitiable monsters as C. Somov, Anctan, Conder, etc., though one 
cannot deny them a certain superficial interest.” 

In spite of this letter Diaghilev refused to be drawn, and produced 
his tenth issue, containing numerous reproductions of paintings by Repin, 
for the which the latter had earlier given his permission. The first pages 
contained Repin’s letter to The 'Niva and were immediately followed 
by Diaghilev’s crushing reply. This “Letter to R<^pin” is one of the finest 
examples of Diaghilev’s literary method. The form used was an astute 
one, that of refuting Repin sentence by sentence. Where R^pin attacks 
The World of Art’s tendency to destroy everything academic, Diaghilev, 
on the opposite page, quotes his article “The Pupils’ Exhibition,” in which 
he himself states that “it is as obsolete and unreasonable to attack the 
Academy as it is to attack any school.” In another place he quotes an 
article by Repin, dated 1897 (eighteen months earlier), in which the latter 
attacks the academies, and states that they “atrophy free creativity and 
its forward impulse.” Later again, Diaghilev quotes R<Spin’s crushing re- 
marks on the “decadence” of The World of Art, while opposing them 
with Repin’s own refutal of the same charge which was quoted earlier. 
In subsequent issues. The World of Art often returned to the attack, 
but we must say in justice that, although attacking R6pin the critic, 
Diaghilev continued to write of the painter with great respect, and in full 
recognition of his importance and talent. 

After this incident the review became still more belligerent. But rbis 
was due to no wish of Diaghilev’s, whose artistic eclecticism made him 
naturally tolerant, and whose views, in any case, at that epoch, were 
neither particularly radical nor Left. 

Foreign contributors to The World of Art 

To return to The World of Art's program, and the degree to which 
it was achieved. 

That program, which was published in 1899, named a lengthy, though 



"the world of art” epoch 63 

not too exact, list of collaborators, including some wbo were thrown 
overboard with the first issues, such as P. D. Boborikin, Prof. A. Prakhov, 
Prince S. Volkonsky, V. Solovyev, and I. Yassinsky. Again, the names 
of certain important contributors are found to be absent, such as Igor 
Grabar (who went on ■writing the art criticisms until 1902, after which 
he collaborated as illustrator) or Maliavin, to give but two, and no 
mention at all is made of the foreign contributors. Though Diaghilev 
did his best to attract foreign contributions, they played no great part in 
his review, and eventually almost ceased to appear. On the other hand, 
many reproductions were published of works by foreign artists. Between 
1899 and 1900, however, the review published quite a number of articles 
by foreign writers and painters. It is enough to quote Maeterlinck on 
“Everyday Tragedy and Contemporary Drama,” E. Grieg on “Mozart 
and Ourselves,” H. Lichtenberger on “Wagner and his Attitude to Art,” 
F. Nietzsche on “Wagner in Bayreuth,” H. Bahr on “Artists and Critics,” 
Huysmans on “Whistler,” Liebermann on “Degas,” Lenbach on “Acad- 
emies and Technique,” Madsen on “Eric Verenskjold,” R. Muther on “Gus- 
tave Moreau,” MacCoU on “Aubrey Beardsley,” Sizeran on “The Prisons 
of Art,” Nicholson on “Williams,” and John Ruskin on “Pre-Raphael- 
itism.” It is worth noting, too, that Diaghilev did not seek out “celebrities” 
to adorn the pages of TAe World of Art, but men whose outlook and in- 
terests were in harmony with the review. For instance, MacColl’s article 
on Beardsley, whose drawings, greatly admired at the time, were already 
well known to the group which later constituted The World of Art, 
and much influenced Russian painters, begins as follows: “The editor of 
The World of Art has asked me to contribute an article which, being 
complementary to the photographs of Beardsley’s drawings, will help 
to make Russian readers better acquainted with the work of this artist, 
explain the spirit behind his work, and deal ■with the peculiarities of his 
personality. The editor has asked me to do this, because of my personal 
acquaintance ■with this remarkable youth, whose short career, which began 
so suddenly and ended so abruptly, I watched with the greatest interest 
both as friend and critic.” 

The appearance of O. Solovyeva’s translation of Ruskin’s article was 
somewhat unexpected, since Diaghilev had always, from his first leading 
article, disputed the views held by Ruskin on art; nevertheless its appear- 
ance is explained in this characteristic note by the editor: “Although 
disagreeing -with certain of the principles expounded in this article, the 
Editor has decided to publish it, in order that his readers may acquaint 
themselves with the attitude to art expressed by the famous English 
writer, John Ruskin, whose death so recently occurred.” 

These “guest-painters,” however, played but a very small part in the 
life of The World of Art. It was the permanent contributors who were 
infinitely more important. Though some died, others appeared to take 



64 SERGE DIAGHCBLEV 

their places. It is hardly necessary to take note o£ all these changes, but 
some o£ the contributors are worth putting on record. 

Helena Polenova died in 1898, I. Levitan in 1899, M. Yakunchikova in 
1902, all three being a great loss to Russian art. The World of Art, and 
Diaghilev personally. In 1899 A. Ostroumova joined the paper, and M. 
Dobuzhinsky; Valerii Brussov and Andrei Biely joined it in 1902, while 
V. Borissov, Mussatov, and the architect Fomin joined it the £ollowing 
year. 


A. Nourok’s part in the Bjeview 

In the last line o£ the prospectus quoted earlier we find the words: 
“Editor: S. Diaghilev.” As we shall see, Diaghilev was not only the 
titular, but actual editor, a task he prosecuted so actively, particularly 
in the first two years, that he must be considered the true soul and creator 
o£ The World of Art, its cause the Diaghilev cause, and the review 
Diaghilev’s review. Neverthless, he had zealous assistants and advisers — 
£or he loved surrounding himself with others, though frequently going 
contrary to their judgment — ^in addition to his editorial board, consisting 
principally of D. Filosofov, who took up an extreme Right position on 
matters of art, V. Serov, L. Bakst, A. Benois, who represented the Center, 
and V. Nouvel and A. Nourok, the extreme Left. We are already 
acquainted with the other members, but a few words remain to be said 
in connection vwth A. Nourok. 

Though one docs not usually find a man’s contemporaries in common 
agreement upon his character, such testimony as we have relating to 
Nourok is surprisingly unanimous. To all he was a man of transparent, 
pure soul, who sought to appear both dissolute and a cynic. “Space does 
not permit me to linger,” writes A. Benois, “on the description of this 
great crank — and thus I am ready to describe my dead friend in all 
sincerity, just as I would my god Hoffmann — ^I will merely record 
that it was Nourok who, among us, filled, as it were, the role of the 
positivist-materialist Skalon, much to the irritation of the fierce ‘mystics,’ 
which we then were. To us he stood for everything that was ultra- 
critical, iconoclastic, overcynical and affectedly lewd. Huysman’s A 
Rebours, banned by the censor, Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du 'Mai, Ver- 
laine’s erotic poems, the novels of Laclos, Louis de Coudray and the 
Marquis de Sade were his favorite literature, and some such book always 
peeped out of his pocket. Absurdly, naively, he would strive to mystify 
us, and feign fearful dissipations, while living a peaceful, respectable 
and thoroughly bourgeois kind of life. Nourok would have liked it 
thought he smoked opium, inhaled ether, or brutalized women : his whole 
behavior affected mystery and had that odd bias to which we, for no 
particular reason, attached the ‘Hoffmannish’ word: S\urrilitat. He was 
the first to acquaint us with Beardsley’s drawings, and to make propa- 







**th:e world of art” epoch 65 

ganda in favor of Fidus, Steinlen and Heine, all of whom strongly in- 
fluenced our outlook on art.” 

A. Ostroumova-Lebedeva and Igor Grabar testify much to the same 
effect. To the general public, however, as also to readers of The World of 
Art, his name meant nothing, for he never signed his articles except 
by initials, or with the pseudonym Silenus. He and V. Nouvel were in 
charge of the journal’s music section, but he also contributed to other 
sections, and notably that of painting. Here his wit, his sarcasm, his 
merciless onslaughts on ignorance and second-ratism, however popular 
it might be, soon made him prominent, and incurred much enmity 
for the review. “The dispassionate Filosofov,” says Grabar, “would reject 
Nourok’s shafts when they were too bitter, considering they overstepped 
the bounds of permissible malice; yet even that which was printed 
sufficed to instil its poison month by month into the frozen blood stream 
of our art pundits.” 

Nourok was also active in collecting numerous notes for the Artistic 
Chronicles. Since the majority were unsigned it was as impossible then, 
thirty-five years ago, as it is now, to guess at their authorship, these 
chronicles being a collective effort to which Diaghilev, Filosofov, Nourok, 
Nouvel, Serov, Benois and Bakst all contributed. 

The influence on Diaghilev of D. Filosofov and A. Benois 

During the early years, and especially while A. Benois was living 
abroad, D. Filosofov, Diaghilcv’s bosom friend and right-hand man, 
exerted considerable influence. Placed in charge of the literary section, he 
was inclined to consider himself, if not the editor, as certainly the co- 
editor of the review. Indeed, so excessive seemed his pretensions that A. 
Benois wished completely to abandon his connection with the review. 
“Seriozha’s dictatorial manner,” he wrote to Bakst, “hardly helped to 
attentuate the unpleasant impression caused by Dima’s patronizing ways, 
which he vainly sought to mask under a mass of paradoxes and sophis- 
tries.” This same Benois, who seems to have been as closely in touch 
with Filosofov as anybody, admits, however, that throughout the “whole 
existence of The World of Art Filosofov was a true helmsman, who, in 
addition, was forced to bear the burden of much of the purely technical 
work of the review. With true self-sacrifice he never sought to avoid any 
of the paltry details connected with all great undertakings, and would 
meticulously supervise printing, block-making, etc. He it was who 
whipped up our flagging energies, saw we had dravidngs on hand, strove 
to ensure punctuality (though, alas, generally without success!) and in 
every way spared no effort to reconcile adversaries, and pour balm on 
wounds caused by Diaghilev’s sharp temper.” 

This function, it may be said in passing, formed no small part of 
Filosofov’s activities, for though Diaghilev the charmer, when he wished 



SERGE DIA-GHILEV 


66 

and took the trouble, could with the greatest ease charm others, in which 
case he would win yet another devoted slave yet he could as easily wound 
them deeply, though not from any particular desire, for that was foreign 
to his nature, but because he was thoughtless and but rarely thought 
of others. 

One example of this ministering to the wounds caused by Diaghilev 
is provided in the account given by that talented Russian etcher A. 
Ostroumova-Lcbedeva who, in 1897, was asked to contribute to The 
World of Art. “I did not like EHaghilev,” she writes, “though he has an 
intelligent face and one full of character. Yet his whole person breathes 
such self-satisfaction, such limitless assurance. As soon as we met he 
began to talk of my etchings, and his wish for me to work on The 
World of Art. But he did it in such a way, and in such accents, that 
I was instantly driven into opposition. I answered shortly and we parted. 
Benois and Filosofov did their best to reconcile our mutual antagonism, 
and frequently, in later days, would take a good deal of trouble to 
smooth out the differences which were always arising between us.” 

There can be no doubt that D. Filosofov exerted considerable influence 
on Diaghilev in the early years of the review, and thus to some extent 
on its whole trend. The signs are visible in the search for individuality, 
for subjective standards, in the literary and symbolic approach to painting, 
and in the nationalism, to which, under Filosofov’s influence, Diaghilev 
was prepared to sacrifice his wide cosmopolitanism, as is shown by the 
prospectus and the review’s enthusiasm for the work of Vasnetzov. 1899 
was a significant year for Diaghilev, for in it he, with Filosofov, visited 
Kiev and the Vladimir cathedral, which Vasnetzov had decorated (to- 
gether with M. Nesterov and M. Vrubel). So deeply impressed were they 
that Diaghilev, spurred on by Filosofov, began not only to rave of Vas- 
netzov as the greatest of living Russian painters, but was almost prepared 
to enlist under Vasnetzov’s banner, however foreign it might be to his 
nature, with its rallying-cry, “Deny the West and Western art for the sake 
of our national Russian culture.” Diaghilev’s article, “On Vasnetzov’s 
Exhibition,” begins with a statement which Benois found it impossible, 
for a long time, to forgive, as he could never forgive The World of Art 
for including reproductions of Vasnetzov’s icons and paintings in its first 
issue: “Just as, in time to come, the important names of our epoch, such 
as Levitan, Nesterov and Serov will be held up and burned at the stake, 
so today the great names of Surikov, R<^pin and Vasnetzov are linked in 
our imaginations. This is the group which determines the direction of 
contemporary Russian painting.” Later, again, Diaghilev says that the 
chief merit of Surikov, Repin and particularly Vasnetzov lies in the fact 
that they are not “afraid of being themselves,” and that never before fias 
Russian art revealed a national consciousness as powerfully as it does 
in the works of these masters. 

In these first years Diaghilev was always singing Vasnetzov’s praises. 



**THE WORLD OF ARX” EPOCH 67 

but as Filosofov’s influence began to abate and that of Benois to grow 
stronger, his attitude changed. By 1904 his tone in regard to his one-time 
demigod is totally different, and not only does he not spare the latter 
in his decline, but he is also far more cautious in his appraisal of works 
which once had his whole-hearted enthusiasm. 

“The Vasnetzov of Kiev Cathedral is in the direct tradition of his 
own ‘stone age.’ Here we see him at his most characteristic; here, whether 
for good or ill [he had written very differently once], he is himself, 
and with extraordinary power expresses his own cherished images. But 
a time came when the intensity of that creative vision waned, till at 
last we come to the tragedy we now witness at his exhibition. Heavens 
above! how changed from his former state! Well was it that the catalogue 
stated we were to see ‘Professor’ Vasnetzov’s paintings! Yet, it should have 
said, too, ‘Member of the St. Petersburg Academy,’ ‘the modern icon- 
painter,’ ‘renowned painter of Madoimas,’ and every doubt of the fearful 
collapse of this artist would finally have vanished. I have respected Vasnet- 
zov in the past, and value his importance to Russian painting too greatly to 
wish to recall these mediocre religious compositions which his fatigued 
imagination has wrought for the new churches at Darmstadt and St. 
Petersburg. This last exhibition, I repeat, is a tragedy. . . .” 

In this new period Filosofov’s influence declined, while that of Benois 
grew stronger, until we find the latter Diaghilev’s co-editor. Gready in- 
fluenced by Bpnois, Diaghilev’s views underwent considerable modifica- 
tion. The literary attitude was abandoned in favor of pure painting, and an 
interest developed in the artistic treasures of his own country, its archi- 
tectural riches, and all its ancient arts and culture, as exemplified in even 
the simplest domestic utensils. Meanwhile, both Benois and Grabar were 
devoting themselves to converting both their readers and editor to the 
art of their contemporaries with special reference to the French Impres- 
sionists. At the outset Diaghilev was hostile to Impressionism, and in his 
first article, dated 1898, wrote as follows: “I must say that the technique 
illustrated by Ruskin is just as incomprehensible to me as that of the 
Impressionists. I cannot bear all this elaboration in the design which 
reveals nothing but effort and meticulousness, just as wild and chaotic 
painting reveals only chicanery and insuflSicient thought. Of the first, 
their merit, it seems, lies in the fact that a magnifying glass is needed 
to examine them, while the second, it appears, are meritorious because 
what look like daubs are, by some trick, transformed into objects at a 
distance. But what we demand of technique, first and foremost, is that 
it shall remain in the background, as though it did not exist. One of the 
charms of listening to a pianist is that no one needs to know what diffi- 
culties have been overcome. And one of the aims of art should be to 
subordinate technique to aesthetic aspects.” 

“What I most dislike is reckless daubing,” wrote Diaghilev, and yet, 
not very long after, we find that more and more space in the review 



68 SERGE DIAGHIUEV 

is being allotted to critical articles upon such reckless daubs and repro- 
ductions of them. Impressionism had become as much a keynote of 
TAe World of Art as was its infatuation with Symbolism: two trends 
which pointed clearly enough to Benois. 


'Dispute between Filosofov and Benois 

In 1901 a series of polemical discussions between Filosofov and Benois 
began to appear in the review, in which may be read the struggle 
for control of the policy of the review, and incidentally of Diaghilev. 
What evidently provoked it was Benois’ History of Russian Painting in 
the XlXth Century, a work of which Diaghilev could not but whole- 
heartedly approve, while deploring its, to him, incorrect historical per- 
spective and ideological dogma. Benois’ opinion that no one but 
Venetzianov, Ivanov and Fedotov mattered as painters in the early days 
of our century, and that a liberated art only began with Serov, Levitan 
and Korovin, seemed to Diaghilev quite unacceptable. 

“Everyone who has even once looked into The World of Art,” wrote 
Diaghilev, “must know how much I love and respect Serov, Korovin 
and Levitan, but to state that by the end of the ’8o’s, every technical 
discovery had been made, both in regard to color, drawing and chiaro- 
scuro, or that nothing new remained to be discovered, one would need 
to be a very Stassov, with all that painter’s self-assurance. Stassov main- 
tains that Russian painting began with Verestchagin, Kramskoy, Shish- 
kin, and the ‘Vagrants,’ while for Benois it begins with Serov, Korovin, 
Levitan, and the birth of The World of Art. 

Not, however, that there was very much in these disputations, for 
their sole effect was to weld the two men ever closer. 

More serious was the dispute between Filosofov and Benois, the point 
at issue being Benois’ disrespect for Vasnetzov, that demigod, who to 
him seemed both transmitter and apostle of a religion pecularly Russian; 
that Vasnetzov, by whose instrumentality Diaghilev had founded The 
World of Art, and whose work and ideas he had always sought to 
further. Whereupon, Filosofov decided to teach Benois the painter a 
lesson, for daring to ponder high matters considered by Filosofov solely 
his own and Merejkovsky’s preserve. The immediate result was that 
a long article entitled “Ivanov and Vasnetzov as seen by Benois” ap- 
peared in the review, its main theme being that Ivanov, admired as he 
was by Benois, was nevertheless a Catholic and follower of Strauss, 
whereas Vasnetzov represented the true mirror of the soul of Russia. 
It ended: “It is a pity that M. Benois approaches the high mystery of our 
national culture in a spirit of such levity. I repeat that he should never 
have departed from a purely aesthetic point of view. The roots of our 
national spirit and religion are sufficiently complex, and cannot with 
impunity be approached in a spirit of levity.” 



**THE WORLD OP ART” EPOCH 69 

These preliminary skirmishes, however, did not end their rivalry. The 
following year, 1902, Filosofov encroached on a domain naturally foreign 
to him, art, and in the literary section, for which he was solely responsible, 
published an article entitled, “Contemporary Art and the Tower of San 
Marco.” To this Alexandre Benois replied with an article entided 
“Ancient and Contemporary Art.” In this article Benois administers 
the coup-de-grdee to the point of view adopted by his fellow workers 
in art. It was a new and much more rigorous attitude than that which had 
led him to accept Diaghilev into his circle, merely because he was 
“Dima’s cousin.” 

“It is unusual for me to find something that could wound me more 
than Filosofov’s article on the Tower of San Marco. Really, it makes 
one feel one would like to stop writing, fighting for art, sharing 
one’s enthusiasms with one’s friends, when one realizes the abyss 
that divides even the closest friends, when one realizes the atmosphere 
of total indifference in which one works and lives. In spite of all 
Filosofov says in favor of modern art, progress, life, through it all I 
detect his basic indiflEerence to art, to beauty. Though he attaches due 
importance to hygiene, our changed conditions, the progress of culture, 
and a virile attitude, he has nevertheless omitted from his calculations 
beauty, the eternal origins of art, eternal, not only in the sense of becom- 
ing, but in its past and present. Filosofov seems intent on rushing for- 
ward, without one backward glance; to him all is in the future and 
nothing in the past, and such a creed is like having no creed at all.” 

No doubt the victory remained with Benois, for in 1904 we find him, 
in word and deed, Diaghilev’s co-editor. In that year, too, we find 
Filosofov writing: “I had the great honor of being one of the founders 
of The World of Art. For six years I have been responsible for the 
literary section of the Review, and its ‘Chronicles,’ ” Now, however, 
the literary section was beginning to recede into the background, while 
Filosofov’s own contributions become progressively rarer. It must finally 
have begun to dawn on Diaghilev that his “bosom friend,” to whom French 
draftsmen represented “brothel art,” was a long way from any real 
understanding of art; and that the latter’s connoisseurship ended with 
Puvis de Chavannes and Vasnetzov. (Aubrey Beardsley seemed “equivo- 
cal” to him, and the paintings of Maurice Denis merely “naive.”) What 
must perhaps have shocked Diaghilev most, was Filosofov’s reactions to 
the work of Levitan and Somov, the two painters Diaghilev most ad- 
mired. We have a letter from Nouvel to Benois, saying: “Dima went on 
obstinately asserting that the one great figure in Russian painting was 
Vasnetzov, while Levitan was merely ‘mediocrity’ in comparison.” No 
doubt the final straw for Diaghilev was Filosofov’s contemptuous criti- 
cism of Somov’s painting as “conventional, somewhat sugary sentimental- 
ism,” whereas he himself appreciated that artist’s work very highly. 



70 


SERGE DIAGHUJEV 


Diaghilev as Editor 

Important as was the work done by Filosofov and Benois in editing 
The World of Art, and great as was their influence upon Diaghilev, 
none the less did he remain its acting editor; the dictator of its artistic 
policy. He it was, who invited this or that artistic contribution: he who 
chose the larger part of the illustrations (I say “larger part,” for to 
a certain degree they were determined by the articles themselves and 
Benois’ “letters”); he, who regularly provided many of the bi-monthly 
notes; and he, again, who was responsible for the journal’s main articles, 
articles which expounded his own outlook, whether or no it pleased his 
collaborators. Very frequently, his opinions would be at odds with those 
of his friends, especially Filosofov and Benois; but in return it must be 
said that Diaghilev never put any obstacle in the way of their freely 
expressing their thoughts, however little he personally might agree with 
them. 

Diaghilev’s personal enthusiasms at this period undoubtedly find their 
completest expression in the issues of 1898, 1899, and 1900. The first 
issue as I have said, a double number, contained reproductions of works 
by Vasnetzov (at that time Diaghilev’s god), Korovin, Levitan, Helena 
Polenova and Maliutin (several by the two latter), and the Scandinavian 
Eric Verenskjold; but succeeding issues reflected Diaghilev’s tastes with 
equal eloquence, as we see from the reproductions of works by Levitzsky, 
Prince Trubetzkoy, Puvis de Chavannes, Somov, Beardsley, Vrubel and 
P. Sokolov, those of some of the Finnish painters he most admired, and 
others by Brullow and Borovikovsky. “Brullow means much to me,” 
Diaghilev was never tired of repeating, and even from the very first 
issues spared no effort to popularize the work of this artist. Thus we 
may see how clearly, how single-mindedly Diaghilev pursued his dicta- 
torial path, and at what point he and his “master” Alexandre Benois 
parted company, for to the latter Brullow meant little. Indeed, in this 
very same journal, Benois was subsequently to write: “Brullow is a vul- 
garian, and if no one has polished him off as he deserves, it is because 
society, and even our painters, lack any real and true feeling for art.” 

^^Decadence^* in fact and theory 

If we take a rough cross-section of Diaghilev’s contributions, we find he 
was seeking to expound certain ideas near and dear to him, in connection 
with the intrinsic values of works of art, irrespective of schools. Remark- 
ably unprejudiced and independent in his judgments, even his eclecticism 
was notable for its catholicity. The origins of this outlook are revealed in 
the very first article contributed to The World of Art. 

“Classicism,” says Diaghilev, “the romantic school and the strident real- 
ism which derives from both, these everchanging shapes of the past 



“the world of art” epoch 71 

hundred years, seem to demand, that we too, shall adopt preconceived 
forms and labels. We, however, refuse to soil ourselves, by contact with 
such works as have been specially devised and painted for us, or even to 
be tempted by them: a phenomenon so astonishing that many have 
interpreted it as a symptom of our decadence. But we continue to preserve 
our skepticism, and accept, or deny, in equal degree, all that has gone 
before.” 

For the heading of this first leader of his in The World of Art 
Diaghilev borrowed a quotation from Michelangelo: “He who follows 
will never lead.” All his innovating activity may be summed up in this 
phrase. Diaghilev instinctively hated everything that was derivative, imita- 
tive, rSchauffSe or static, for this was what real “decadence” repre- 
sented to him. And this attitude was to be perpetually reiterated, from 
that first article entitled “Our Pseudo-Decadence,” to the last. 

Thus, when modern art was accused of “decadence,” Diaghilev wrote: 
“Whether something is decadent or not has nothing to do with whether 
R^pin is better than BruUow (highly problematic though that may be). 
Each in his way, represents the culminating point of a period of artistic 
tension, summits painfully conquered, though disastrous, for each and all 
of their imitators. (That is when the real decadence begins!) The MoUers, 
Flavitzkys, Semiradskys, represent the ‘decadence’ of Brullow; the Savit- 
skys, Pimonenkos, ELasatkins, on the other hand, the ‘decadence’ of 
Repin. But that, too, is precisely why modern art is not ‘decadent,’ for it 
neither imitates, nor is better nor worse. All it seeks is to express itself at 
its most characteristic, whether in the work of one man or many. 

“It is very possible that, where ultimate values are concerned, our epoch 
may well prove inferior to that of ‘classical art,’ or that of ‘realistic,’ and 
may be unable to claim any such important figure as Repin or Brullow. 
If that be so, its r61e in the history of culture will be but a minor one, 
though none the less, armed with its own justification. Nevertheless, our 
epoch, where painting is concerned, can never be considered a “decadent’ 
one, an age which accepts ready-made ideas, or one that is always mouth- 
ing established truths; on the contrary, we shall be credited with what 
we deserve, because we have so unflinchingly pursued new paths.” 

It is clear, however, that Diaghilev was no servile worshiper of mod- 
ernism. Real decadence he attacked, as he attacked “flashy modernism,” 
and was later to attack painters he had crowned with bays in the columns 
of The World of Art. One instance is that article entitled “Omnipotent 
Munich.” “Thirty years ago, the schools of Diisseldorf, at that time the 
world’s artistic center, played no small part in destroying much promising 
talent, for with their academism, they froze it stiff. Now again, Munich, 
which leads the van of Western art, is proving responsible for the 
destruction of a number of remarkably gifted individuals. Secessionist art 
is now the most hideous routine procedure, and has provided a formula 



SERGE DIAGHELEV 

for the fabrication of thousands of paintings. Obvious effects, mass pro- 
duction, decadence, these are the evils it is necessary to combat.” 


Hatred of derivative, repetitive and static art 

It was this attitude towards decadence and formulas, which provoked 
such hatred in Diaghilev for whatever smacked of repetitiveness, imita- 
tion, or static art. We know how greatly he admired Zorn, Carricre and 
Dagnan-Bouveret. But that does not prevent his writing in 1901: “You 
see a magnificent portrait, the latest, by that spoiled baby of Paris, Zorn. 
When two years ago his sky-blue ‘American woman’ was exhibited, its 
main feature being a huge dog, the whole town rushed to see it, spoke of 
nothing but Zorn, his energy, vitality, spontaneity, and general devil-may- 
care-ness. All that is still there: a white silk frock, fascinatingly painted 
by a master’s hand, a red sofa, an art nouveau background, and Japanese 
dwarf trees. The woman herself is beautifully placed on the canvas, the 
tones, the composition are exquisite, and yet, in spite of all this perfection, 
one feels, though why I know not, a small chill breath which seems to 
say there is nothing one cannot acquire by practice — not only design and 
anatomy, but even passion, even the ingenuousness of adolescence: in a 
word, all those condiments more precious than diamonds to the painter. 

“Zorn’s dramatic effects, his excess of feeling shock us at times: but 
now they have become merely a formula, imitative, superficial, however 
skillfxil it may be, and like, for example, the last ‘fogs’ by Carricre. 
Carri^e is a divine poet, the Rodin of painting. How often have we not 
shuddered with a sacred shudder, before his sublime portraits of mothers 
and children ? But why is it always the very same thing, except that only 
the inspiration is lacking, an inspiration which has always stood him in 
such good stead? It is obvious that every one of us has some quality 
specifically his own. That was why Rembrandt remained always himself, 
and never became a Leonardo. This was the vast asset of all the great 
masters. Whatever they did, they were always true to themselves: they 
were never imitative. But nowadays things have changed. Rafaelli, Carricre 
emerge out of the bluej they ‘discover themselves,’ and then begin feeding 
on themselves and their ‘discovery,’ after which one of two things hap- 
pens: either they get lost in the mazes of their own mannerisms like 
Dagnan-Bouveret, Lcnbach, Zwill, Meunier, Friant; or else they begin 
imitating themselves, so that it is no longer a Carricre we are looking at, 
but a pseudo-Carriire, a pseudo-Menard, and so on. Having by chance, 
made a fortunate discovery, nothing will ever drag them off it again. And 
by careful study of each of their mannerisms, they finally create a verita- 
ble factory, and succeed in turning out some excellent specimens. But . . . 

“We could say as much on the subject of Aman-Jean. His famous por- 
trait of Suzanne Poucet has appeared in innumerable books and repro- 
ductions; there is real inspiration in it, it is a veritable Aman-Jean, 



"the wobxd of art” efoch 73 

feminine, pensive, tender. But why ruin one’s own reputation by exhibit- 
ing, on the last wall of the show, and surrounded by pastels, a series of 
self-imitations, of mass-produced females swathed in filmy gauzes against 
motley backgrounds, that might be bits of wallpaper bought at 
Liberty’s?” 

This holy hatred of Diaghilev’s for repetitiveness, a hatred which 
endured all through his life, might lead one to think that alone the 
present and future mattered to him, but never the past. That, however, 
was not the case. Enlightened as he was in matters of art, past cultures 
and what they have passed on to us could not be indifferent to him. 
What he hated was not, properly speaking, “the past,” but the past when 
it laid claim to govern the present- The past, as such, provided he could 
subscribe to its art, possessed in his eyes, an eternal value. It would be 
an understatement to say that Diaghilev loved the art of the past, for he 
adored it, devoted himself to it (hence his eclecticism) and was constantly 
reiterating that every artist, no matter who, if he deserved the name, must 
have studied, and drawn his inspiration, from the teachings of past 
cultures, built up through the ages. Throughout the whole of his life, in 
the period of The World of Art, as also in that of the Russian Ballet, 
Diaghilev delved in the past, and piously guarded what he found in it: 
that past determined his present, and through the present, his strivings 
towards the future. 


The Applied Arts 

The applied arts, both Russian and foreign, occupied much space in 
The World of Art as indeed had been announced by the prospectus. 
“Part II will devote itself particularly to the work of individual craftsmen, 
with special reference to outstanding examples of ancient Russian art.” 

Actually, much more space was finally allotted to the home product, 
from ancient tapestries, needlework and domestic utensils to modern fur- 
niture designed by Benois, Bakst, Maliutin, Yakunchikova, Ober, etc., 
than to the products of the West. But, although Diaghilev much admired 
certain foreigners, such as Olbrich, he did not care for the art nouveau 
which was swamping the European market, and much preferred what 
was being created in Russia. Thus, we find him writing: “The applied 
arts in the West have succeeded in making considerable progress, much 
to the despair of no small number of tourists who, in their search for 
novelty, have found the productions of Darmstadt, Turin, Vienna and 
many another ‘sacred wood’ crowded out by the innumerable imitators of 
Olbrich, Baur-de-Velde, Eckmann, etc., crammed down their throats. 

“De style nouveau, having utterly swamped Europe, is now as cosmo- 
politan as one of those Continental expresses which speeds through Ger- 
many, Belgium, France in one day. I do not know whether the difference 
in track gauge, or a certain sluggishness about our goods trains, is re- 



74 SERGE DIA.GHELEV 

sponsible for the fact that this, by now, universal convention, has failed to 
catch on here. Actually, such efiEorts as Russia has made to develop the 
applied arts have so far produced results diametrically opposed to what 
we find in the West. Instead of finding oneself up against a mass move- 
ment, as it is over there, here we find only individual efforts, isolating and 
charming though they be, such as those of Vasnetzov, Vrubel, Polenova 
and MaUutin.” 

Owing to the extraordinary variety of the “Art Notes,” Russian readers 
were enabled to follow every contemporary artistic development, whether 
at home or abroad, the section devoted to “Notes and Queries being 
exceptionally interesting. Indeed, this section was admirably adapted to 
fulfill the mission which The World of Art had set itself, namely that of 
completing the artistic education of Russia. The material covers an extraor- 
dinary range, dealing in turn with D. Levitzky (to whom Diaghilev 
dedicated the only book he ever wrote), the sculptor Prince P. Tru- 
betzkoy, P. P. Sokolov the painter, I. Davidova, the Porcelain Factory, 
Churches and Chapels of the seventeenth century. Ancient Sculpture, the 

Sculptor Seidl, the Korovins, Ober, Maliutin, etc but it is impossible 

to go through the whole list. 


M.usic 

The section devoted to music in The World of Art was very adequate, 
being serious, comprehensive and sound rather than brilliant. Neither the 
editor, nor staff, however, were responsible for this, and every possible 
effort was made to improve the standard. The general arrangement of the 
section was very similar to that devoted to painting: it was intended to 
educate the reader and acquaint him with the best work of the past, as 
well as with contemporary activities, both at home and abroad. 

This section was in charge of A. Nourok, a man of wide culture and 
with a keen sense of music. Outside contributions were invited and thus, 
in the first two years, we find articles such as those by Laroche entitled 
“A Certain Performance,” or “Pseudo-Conquests by Russian Music 
Abroad,” “A Few Words anent the Programs of the Russian Music 
Society’s recitals,” “Program Music”; or those by A. Koptaiev on “Latest 
events in Musical Literature,” “Portraits of Musicians,” “Scriabin and the 
Moscow Opera Season.” Nourok did his best to enhance the quality and 
interest of the few pages The World of Art was willing to devote to this 
subject, but he himself had little talent as a critic. Indeed, at that time, 
no outstanding Russian critic of music existed — a fact as true of today. 

Nevertheless, Nourok and V. F. Nouvel certainly contributed largely, 
both in The World of Art and “The Contemporary Music Society,” to the 
development of public taste, and to familiarizing the general public with 
the work of rising Russian composers (one of Nourok’s special en- 
thusiasms being Rachmaninov). We owe it to them, too, that the names 



"the -world of art” epoch 75 

o£ C^sar Franck, Debussy, Ravel, Vincent d’Indy, Richard Strauss and 
Max Reger, became familiar to the Russian pubHc. 

Literature 

This section, edited by D. Filosofov, differed so gready from the main 
pordon of the review devoted to visual art, that it might almost have 
seemed a totally independent effort. That difference was already indicated 
in the advance prospectus, where it was stated that the literary section 
would solely devote itself to “literary and aesthetic criticism.” 

As with painting, Russian poetry at that time was largely experimental. 
Thus, the first step to be taken was that of classifying our St. Petersburg 
poets by schools. One group consisted of the more timid experimentalists, 
who might more or less be classified as followers of Nadsen, such as 
Minsky and Merejkovsky, and who, by some strange misunderstanding 
at the beginning of their careers, considered themselves to be poets. The 
other group comprised some powerfully individual and truly original 
poets, such as Sologub and Mme. Snaide Hippius, the Muscovite, C. 
Balmont, “poet by the grace of God,” and the Moscow Symbolists, at 
their head being V. Brussov, Koniavsky, the young Andrei Biely, and the 
“Genevan,” V. Ivanov, in addition to the St. Petersburger, Alexandre 
Blok, then almost at his zenith. 

Russian poetry, therefore, needed a World of Art of its own, in every 
way comparable with that of painting, a lack which Diaghilev’s review 
was only too ready to supply, and could and should have done. Actually, 
however, it faded to do so, not because D. Filosofov lacked the necessary 
organizing abiUty, but because, absorbed in other ideas, he failed to per- 
ceive the new poetic movement. Suffice it to say that throughout the 
whole of 1899 and 1900, not a single poem, not one major literary work 
appeared in the review, nor a single story, even though, at the time, 
Remisov, Biely and Sologub were charging Russian Hterature with new 
vitaUty. In 1901, however, appeared the first swallow, and poems by 
Balmont, Mme. Hippius, Sologub and Minsky and Merejkovsky were 
pubhshed. But no spring followed. It was the first herald — and the last. 
One cannot therefore help wondering, whether it was not merely because 
they served as themes for illustrations by Benois, Bakst and Lanceret that 
they were ever published at all. Even when, later, as a result of Diaghilev’s 
reiterated demands, and that of some of his collaborators more responsive 
to modern poetry, the work of Brussov and Biely was admitted to the 
review, it was their theories, uninteresting though these were, which were 
printed, and not their poems. 

The World of Art, instead of giving due publicity to the rising school 
of Russian writers, as it did to the painters, was content to restrict itself 
to bare criticism, and criticism, I repeat, which, owing to Filosofov, re- 
mained untouched by the new trends. 



y6 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

Why was this? Are we to assume a dearth o£ talented writers? Yet it is 
enough to recall the list of original contributors (a list which was to 
grow with time) and which included such names as Balmont, Mme. 
Hippius, Merejkovsky, Rosanov, V. Solovyev and F. Sologub, to realize 
what brilliant talents were already connected with the review. But — save 
for one issue, dated 1901, in which certain of his poems were printed — 
all that Balmont ever contributed to the review was two articles, one on 
Goya (“The Poetry of Horror”) the other on Calderon’s tragedy "The 
Adoration of the Cross.” Sologub, again, contributed but one article in the 
whole period of the review’s existence, an essay on Pushkin, “On the 
Pushkin Celebrations,” while Solovyev abandoned the journal indignantly 
the moment its special Pushkin number appeared. 

That issue was intended to coincide with the Pushkin centenary cele- 
brations of May 26th, 1899. Judging by the degree to which Diaghilev 
adored the great poet, and the fervor with which Filosofov described 
Pushkin’s own visits to Bogdanovskoye in the days of his father, who, as 
a child had actually seen him, a particularly brilliant issue might have 
been expected. Diaghilev indeed had done all he could to ensure its 
success, and had filled the review with numbers of reproductions of works 
by contemporary painters, such as Th. Tolstoy, Kiprensky, Venetzianov, 
Aleyev, Legachev, Terebenev, Chernetzov, Nottbek, Tropinin, Reutern, 
Brullow, Selentzov and Orlovsky and by publishing an article of the 
greatest interest in the “Art Notes” entitled “Pushkin Illustrations.” ® 
However, the issue from a literary standpoint proved a total failure, for 
Filosofov had seen fit to insert articles by Rosanov, "A Note on Pushkin,” 
Merejkovsky, “The Pushkin Celebrations,” Minsky, “Pushkin’s Teach- 
ing” (perhaps the best of them) and F. Sologub, “A Pan-Russian Ritual,” 
all of which, in one way or another, jeered at the official celebrations and 
their bureaucratic organization, though none had any positive or alter- 
native suggestion to make. This article by Rosanov, which was to shock 
Solovyev and countless others so profoundly, took for its main theme the 
immense difference which its author saw between the lives of Gogol, 
Lermontov and Dostoevsky, who spent their nights writing, and that of 
Pushkin, who “gambled his nights away.” In Rosanov’s words: “Push- 
kin’s soul did not compel him, on lovely, starry nights, or perfect days, 
to seat himself in front of a sheet of paper; whereas the first three were 

« In this article Diaghilev, among other things, pleaded that illustration should remain 
subjective. “If we,” he said, “demand that an illustrator’s art be mainly descriptive, we 
limit his scope, and_ set insuperable difficulties in his path. It is sheer madness to demand 
of illustration that it render the soul of the poet or his most secret thoughts: for what it 
amounts to is asking that the painter shall become a poet, also, which is neither possible nor 
helpful. The whole significance of the illustrator’s art lies in its utter subjectivity; all 
that we ask of him is his own interpretation of a poem, story, novel. An illustration should 
never be expected to complement some piece of writing, nor merge into it; far otherwise. 
It should light up the creation of the poet with the strictly personal illumination that 
emanates from the painter. The more startling that vision is, the more completely it 
expresses the personality of the painter, the greater will be its importance. In a word, it is 
a matter of complete indifference that the poet shall be able to say, ‘Yes, that indeed is how 
I see it.’ What really matters is his saying, ‘Ahl so that’s how you see it.’ ” 



"the world of art” epoch 77 

unable to help themselves. Their search for an absolute freedom, whether 
in Rome or ‘the wide world,’ where none would come to invite them, 
and none should be their guest,” was the prime condition of their 
existence. 

Another curious feature greatly distinguished the literary section from 
the rest of the review. That was its almost total neglect of foreign Uter- 
ature, all its interests being concentrated, very unfairly at times, on the 
home product. At the most, towards the end of its career, a number of 
articles and notes deaUng with Polish literature by Peremilovsky were 
published. This, with practically no exception, was all the interest Filoso- 
fov manifested in literature abroad. 

As for belles lettres, practically no space at all was allotted to it. Short 
stories and poems were completely missing, and the literary criticism was 
characterized both by its poverty and paucity. We must ask ourselves, 
therefore, how the literary section came to take up so much of the review 
— a fact which elicited heated protests from the painters. 

The truth was that Filosofov, in his unbounded enthusiasm for the ideas 
of Merejkovsky and Mme. Hippius, his intimate friends, and in pursuit 
of his own ideals, wished to convert The World of Art into a philosophic 
and religious review, and the immense amount of this material which 
therefore foxmd its way into the pages, pushed literature well into the 
background. For these ideas he was prepared to sacrifice all that The 
World of Art stood for. This explains why Merejkovsky’s book Leo 
Tolstoy and DostoevsJ^ ran as a serial during the years 1900, when pos- 
sibly just for Merejkovsky’s benefit, the literary section was started, and 
1901. True, the work was exceedingly talented, and made some stir on 
its appearance, but does that justify its occupying the whole of the space 
allotted to literary matters, when the only result could be to enfeeble and 
impoverish the review? Finally, in 1902, “An Epilogue” to this work was 
printed, after which the name of Merejkovsky disappears from the review, 
except for a short article “Giants and P^ygmies,” published in 1903. 

It must be said, however, that 1902 marked the appearance of a review 
entitled The New Path, its tendency being much more sympathetic to 
both Merejkovsky and Filosofov than Diaghilev’s review. Thus the former 
no longer needed The World of Art, and the latter, though himself be- 
ginning to cool off, at the same time found it necessary to invite new 
contributions, with the result that work by Brussov and Andrei Biely 
begins to appear in the same year. 

One of the most talented contributors to the review at this time was 
the V. V. Rosanov already mentioned. As a result of his intimacy with 
the editorial staff, he well appreciated the nature of the review, and for 
that reason refrained from contributing lengthy articles which could only 
be published in installments, while doing his best to lend variety to his 
contributions. Thus, we find him writing “A Note on Piishkin,” “Beauty 
in Ancient Egypt,” “Diana — ^Aphrodite,” “Further Considerations re- 



78 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

lating to Pushkin’s Death,” “Notes on a Lecture by V. Solovyev,” “An 
fentertaining Evening,” “Development of Russian Sculpture,” “Some In- 
teresting Ideas by Slabichevsky,” “Paestum and Pompeii,” etc. Of some 
importance, too, were P. Pertzov’s regular contributions to the literary 
section.* 

Drama and the Theater 

On the other hand. The World of Art proved a faithful mirror for 
achievements in the theater, both in regard to opera and the drama, 
though rather less, strange though it seems, to the ballet. Not that there 
was much scope for critical writing in connection with the Imperial 
Theaters, bound as they were by tradition, and making only the rarest 
concessions to modernity. Nevertheless, we find articles by Mme. Hippius 
on A. Tolstoy’s Tsar Boris staged at the Theatre Alexandre, and by 
Diaghilev, Filosofov, Rosanov,- JBenois and Mirovitch dealing with pro- 
ductions in the Imperial Theaters. The World of Art also showed a lively 
interest in the production of works by Sophocles and Euripides, given at 
the Theatre Alexandre; perhaps to some extent because they had been 
translated by Merejkovsky. 

Such rare concessions as the stage made to modernism and decadence, 
or to a production that occasionally “came ofF’ left Diaghilev unen- 
thusiastic, for as he wrote: “These are but tepid and unconvincing efforts 
at modernity which make no effort to understand cither its true nature 
or its needs. It is easy enough to pose at being modern, but an altogether 
different matter to satisfy the deep needs of contemporary culture. That 
is why our theatrical pundits have thrown up the sponge, preferring to 
furbish themselves with modern trappings, rather than bother with what 
lies beneath, for they consider that such glory as they have earned thanlfs 
to ‘their decadent bric-a-brac’ is amply sufficient and indicative.” 

The publication of The World of Art coincided with the appearance of 
another individual venture, namely the Moscow Art Theater, which 
revolutionized our theatrical art, and may be considered one of the great- 
est events in the history of Russian culture. 

It was an event, the importance of which was immediately realized by 
The World of Art, for during the whole six years of its existence, it 
always manifested the liveliest interest and concern in the vicissitudes and 
development of this group. Although it allowed its contributors the fullest 
liberty to say what they thought — ^I say it in all seriousness — and though 
at times they would draw sttteutiQn to the real dangers inherent in Tche- 
khov’s repertoire, thdf' editorial staff of The World of Art was none the 
less convinced that the establishment of the Moscow Art Theater was an 
event of the greatest importance, and one which might exert a very real 
influence on the whole development of art. 

*His literary Reminiscences were published in Soviet Russia during 1933. The .-igbi-h 
chapter is of great interest, for it is entirely devoted to The World of Art. 



THE WORLD OF ART*’ EPOCH 79 

The first article to deal with this new theatrical group appeared in 1900. 
It was contributed by P. Gneditch, and was entitled “The Theater o£ the 
Future.” Attacking the estabhshed theater, it waxed highly enthusiastic 
over the new venture, and went on to say “Every company that strikes 
out a new path has first to solve three problems: (i) how to repudiate 
once and for all traditional convention, (a) how to substitute for it the 
reality of everyday existence as conceived and envisaged by the author, 
(3) how to learn to choose from this realistic art, works of the greatest 
integrity, vitality and interest, i.e., the most successful artistically.” Later, 
he adds that these three problems have all been successfully solved by the 
Moscow Art Theater (absolutely, for modern plays; less so, for costume 
or historical plays) and boldly asserts [it is 1900 remember!] that “the 
production of Uncle Vanya and The Sea Gull marks an epoch in the art 
of the stage.” 

By 1902, we find a more critical attitude towards the viewpoint and 
trends of the Moscow Art Theater, both from Filosofov and Brussov; the 
latter, in a brilliant article entitled “Useless Truth,” expressing alarm at 
what were considered Stanislavsky’s excesses and their probable effect on 
the conventions of the stage, which seemed to them both quite indispensa- 
ble to any future developments in that art. 

Diaghilev, too, contributed a number of articles (two particularly out- 
standing) on the same group. All his life, he had manifested a lively 
interest in the theater, and this was to become still greater when, in 1899- 
1900, he was appointed assistant to the Director of the Imperial Theaters. 

Thus, any opinion expressed by the future founder and director of the 
Russian Ballet paust be precious to us, and particularly, because many of 
the tendencies in the Moscow Art Theater were later reflected in the 
ballet. We will pause awhile therefore, to consider Diaghilev’s pronounce- 
ments and begin with an extract from an article entitled “The Originality 
of the 'Moscow Art Theater.” “The chief prerogative of this group,” he 
says, -“lies in the fact that it can allow itself to take risks which any other 
daring innovator, enjoying less popularity, less authority, would dearly 
pay for. Here you have a group to whom everything will be forgiven: 
more, every effort will be made to give credence to its sincerity and the 
seriousness of its aims, however outrageous they may seem.” ® 

Among these daring experiments must be numbered the production of 
Maeterlinck’s three plays. 

All these plays proved to be failures, both in the eyes of the partisans 
of the Symbolist school, to whom a new approach seemed needed, totally 
foreign to the realism of the Art Theater, and those of Stanislavsky’s 
customary admirers, who saw Maeterlinck’s Symbolism as mere affecta- 
tion. Further on, in the same article, Diaghilev takes up the defense, and 
asserts that “the production of The Blind was a clever and subtle solution 

® Might not the very same words have been said fifteen to twenty years later apropos 
Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet? 



8 o SERGE DIAGHILEV 

of a problem which seemed beyond the powers of a theater whose 
roots penetrated so deeply into existence. And yet that burst of music, so 
suddenly interrupted, which introduces the performance and closes it, 
seems still to continue all the time one is watching this profoundly moving 
and mysterious tragedy.” 

The second Diaghilev article, “More about Julius Caesar” was evoked 
by V, Mirovitch’s article “First Night at Julius Caesar, by the Art 
TTieater,” a writer also responsible for two other articles: “The First Per- 
formance of Gorky’s Lou/er Depths” and “The Pillars of Society at the 
Art Theater.” Diaghilev, however, disagreed with Mirovitch’s contention 
that “the center of gravity in the theater has been transferred from the 
domain of the actor and the artist’s individual inspiration, to that of the 
mechanics of their art,” or that, “lacking, as it did, tragic actors, the Art 
Theater should never have embarked on producing Shakespeare.” 

So aggressive and eloquent was Diaghilev’s refutation of this statement 
that I think it essential to reproduce it here in detail: 

“This is a reproach to which every new development in art has had 
to submit, identical with that twenty-year cry that Rimsky-Korsakov’s 
and Glazunov’s music was nothing but musical theorems solved by 
musically minded mathematicians. Are not reproaches still being hurled 
at Sarah, that divine genius, for the super-perfection of her technique, as 
prejudicing acting ‘from the heart,’ h la Duse? Think of the sarcasms 
heaped on the Meiningen players when they appeared in countries edu- 
cated in the tradition of psychopathic enthusiasm for all sorts of art tricks 
from Tamberlic’s contre ut diize ® to Komisarjevska’s sour tears! All this 
‘straight from the heart’ business, these ‘moments of inspiration,’ this 
bestial pursuit of ‘the soul’ which seem impossible to throw off, have 
greatly harmed our art. 

“Just as a portrait is no good unless it ‘comes out of its frame,’ so we 
refuse to accept our classical theater unless it contains at least one ‘great 
tragic actor.’ Any flabby seventy-year-old Othello— say, Salvini — will make 
all the Yuri Beliaevs he flat on their backs: that is the charming custom 
we have inherited from the rabid admirers of the great Karatigins, Sa- 
moilovs and other Rubinis.” 

Remarks such as these from Diaghilev are infinitely more precious and 
interesting to us than whether Vishnevsky was suitable in the part of 
Antony. Contrary to the general opinion, and that of Mirovitch, Diaghi- 
lev claimed that there was no real “soul” in Vishnevsky’s conception of 
the part, and that it bordered perilously upon Tamberlic’s holy ut di^ze, 

® Tamberlic. Italian tenor of immense international fame: at the height of his powers, 
1850-60. In common with all the great singers of his time and school, he attached, as did 
his public, an exaggerated importance to the highest note of his register, C, C-sharp 
(«r diize), and sometimes even D. When one of these was due in the part, everyone on both 
sides of the footlights stopped, and prepared to listen to the marvelous sound produced 
by the singer, with extreme deliberation and absolute contempt of the dramatic situation 
and even of the musical sense of the moment. The post-Wagner style condemned this prac- 
tice as inartistic and senseless j the ordinary listener still raves about it. (Ed.) 



*'the world of art” epoch 8 1 

This same article ends on an exceedingly interesting note: “I should 
find it difficult to say whether the Art Theater was justified in putting on 
Jidius Caesar, but one thing is certain, and that is that it is a perfectly 
legitimate and natural thing to want to build up a classical repertory. 
We were delighted to observe that the Moscow actors were able to put 
on a classic, and produce it in a most finished manner such as befits a 
modern, a most modern spectator. 

“There is a great tendency in our Alexandriinsky Theater to create 
‘types,’ according to the ‘artistic temperaments’ of every actor on its 
roster, as a result of which, where the classics are concerned, however 
‘great’ an actor may be, he must perforce relearn everything from A to 
Z, and most important, forget his ‘greatness.’ 

“The Moscow actors, however, know what discipline is, and that, more 
important than temperament or ‘the sacred fire,’ is what combines all 
colors into one single picture. Their great merit lies precisely in what 
they have been reproached with, namely, ‘transferring the center of 
gravity in the theater from the domain of the actor, and the artist’s in- 
dividual inspiration to that of the mechanics of their art.’ Bondage to 
inspiration is what enslaves our theater.” 

The Opera 

The article “More about Julius Caesar^' is dated 1903, that on “News 
of the Moscow Art Theater,” 1904. The latter is certainly the best article 
contributed by Diaghilev to The World of Art, and coincides with a 
period when he was already losing interest in the review, and perhaps 
already contemplating devoting his energies to some new activity. Mean- 
while, where opera was concerned, Diaghilev manifested an interest and 
enthusiasm which far outshone that of any of the other contributors to 
The World of Art. Apart from two notes by A. Nourok, dealing with 
Delibes’ iM^me and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le Coq d'Or and two others by 
A. Benois, one dealing with a new production of Russian and Ludmila, 
the other with The Valkyries (the latter of the greatest interest in that it 
reveals how similar were Benois’ and Diaghilev’s views where productions 
of Wagner were concerned), every other article was written by Diaghilev. 
Not that these were very numerous or varied, since, for the most part, 
they deal exclusively with Wagner’s operas. Such enthusiastic Wagnerism 
in the pages of The World of Art finds its explanation, not only in the 
adoration felt by both Diaghilev and Benois at about this time for the 
genius of Bayreuth, nor in the fact that the Mariinsky Theater, though 
lacking all modern apparatus, nevertheless, managed to stage his operas, 
but in their anxiety to convey to the management of the Imperial Theaters 
how the works of this composer should be staged. That was the real, the 
underlying, motive for Benois’ article on The Valkyries. While admitting 
that these productions were far superior to those of Paris, and needed to 



82 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

fear no comparison with those of Bayreuth, Vienna or Dresden, he never- 
theless claimed that an immense amount still remained to be done, and 
stated that in his opinion “steps should be taken to exorcise the weird 
fate of Wagner’s operas,” for, as to the visual side of his works, the 
composer had been only too easily contented, approving whatever the 
stock scene-painters had turned out. 

Diaghilev, for his part, demanded that the sets, the acting, and even 
the vocal renderings be re-interpreted. According to him the operas 
needed to be produced in a totally different fashion “from that demanded 
by Cosima, who has reached a stage where she is confusing her own 
whimsies with the wishes of her genius-husband. The Nibelungs must be 
produced without the assistance of the German ‘Wagner-cxperts’^ — ^a task 
which would prove both important and impressive.” 

In the end The World of Art proved triumphant, for in 1903 Benois 
and Korovin were commissioned to design the sets for a new production 
of Gbtterddmmerung (the former preparing the designs, the latter being 
entrusted with the scenery). Diaghilev applauded the innovation, and 
claimed that the opera had now been produced in a manner far su- 
perior to that of its own country. Nevertheless, he was not entirely 
satisfied, declaring that he had expected more from Benois, and that he 
particularly disliked its realism. But as ever, Diaghilev was too exacting. 

“In so far as he is a fine painter,” he wrote, “Benois has produced some 
delightful water colors, which would adorn any exhibition. But one ques- 
tion remains to be asked. What has Wagner to do with aU this, and 
what has become of the twilight of the gods? Stated otherwise, what 
connection is there between these landscapes, veritable works of art 
though they be, and Wotan, Briinnhilde, Valhalla, the Rhine Maidens, 
and the whole phantasmagoria which is the very essence of Wagner’s 
creation? We are shown a fine northern landscape, with pines and some 
large stones left lying about, the kind of stage stone no one believes in, 
though why they are there, heaven alone knows! And this charming 
spot in the province of Perm is meant to stand for that rock, pregnant 
with terror, on which Wotan lulls his winged daughter to sleep. This 
is the heroic scene, that is to be peopled by gods and heroes.” 

However, Diaghilev did not only concern himself with certain pro- 
ductions, for “the reform of the opera” was also a matter of keen in- 
terest to him. Among other schemes, he worked on an idea that had 
long been cherished by Prince S. Volkonsky, director,’’ for a short time, 
of the Imperial Theaters: namely, that of establishing a second opera 
company, in addition to that attached to the Mariinsky Theater. 

’’In 1902, when Diaghilev wrote his articles on the necessity for such a reform. Prince 
Volkonsky was no longer in office. 




Lydia Lopokova 


Anton Dolin 



83 


**THE 'WORLD OF ART” EPOCH 

The Ballet 

Between 1899-1901 Diaghilev, as I have said, was associated with the 
management o£ the Imperial Theaters, where, as he wrote and said later, 
he hoped to be able to introduce certain innovations, which were even- 
tually to find their application in the Russian Balle^ A number o£ £acts 
appear to bear out this statement, and principally that o£ his resignation 
a£tcr the Sylvia episode, the costumes and decor for which he had wished 
to entrust to certain young painters, worthy of the name, instead of ap- 
plying to the professionals. It will be necessary to revert yet again to 
the important part played by painting in the Russian Ballet, and more 
generally the “ballet-scena.” In this respect, Diaghilev’s attitude in 1909- 
1910 was exactly what we find it in 1899-1900. Meanwhile, we find his 
closest collaborator, that right hand of his, both on The World of Art 
and the Russian Ballet, Alexandre Benois, writing in the review that 
“the co-operation of artists like Golovin and Korovin is a first step 
towards raising the ballet to its level in the days of Fanny Elssler and 
Taglioni.” 

“Even if it is possible to claim,” wrote Benois, “that their first attempt 
has not proved wholly successful, nevertheless one cannot deny the glow- 
ing spark of life which must eventually flare into an immense beacon. 
Now at last we can see real painting in the theater, instead of the back- 
grounds of the professional scene-painter. It is an event of the greatest 
importance, for it foretells a total rebirth of the art of the stage in this 
country,” 

A. Benois proved to be an excellent prophet, and “the glowing spark 
of art and life” did, indeed, with time, flare up into an immense beacon. 

If, however, we assume that Diaghilev, from the very beginning~dF 
his coimection with the Imperial Theaters, had a clear-cut program and 
definite ideas about the ballet, as he himself was to state in later years, 
how surprising does it seem that no parallel effort was made to propa- 
gate these ideas through the medium of the review? Actually, it is not 
until 1902 that we find the first mention of the ballet in its pages, a 
period when both Benois and Diaghilev were beginning to develop an 
interest in this art. One explanation may be that, being attached to the 
Imperial Theaters, and thus exclusively occupied with practical matters, 
he was willing to leave its theoretical aspects in abeyance until such time 
as, free to follow his own devices, he might hope, in writing, to influence 
the future development of the ballet. Nevertheless, even between the 
years 1902-1904, we find no mention of any project for reforming the 
ballet, while such notes and articles as do exist prove excessively meager. 
One thing alone seemed clear to Diaghilev and Benois, namely, the 
need for employing real painters to provide finer, more evocative settings 
for the ballet. Benois, too, though well aware of the bonds which linked 
ballet and painting, found much diflSculty in providing any definition of 



84 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

these bonds. This, however, was much the case with all the contributors 
to the review. Each felt vaguely that change and reform were needed, 
but no one could say precisely in what way. Indeed, all that Benois can 
find to say is, “our ballet, the most famous in Europe, where ballet is 
either dead or has long since become something unsavory, this ballet 
of ours, of which we have every reason to be proud, is, we must confess, 
on the decline. It is on the decline, in spite of Vsevoloj sky’s ® charming 
productions, in spite of Tchaikovsky’s inspired music, or the lovely music 
Glazunov provides . . . and in spite of its dancers, among whom the most 
worthy of mention are MM. Legat, Gerdt, Lukyanov, and Miles. Preo- 
brazhenskaya, Kshesinskaya, Pavlova II, Sedova — ^though there are many 
others. 

“Yet the fault does not lie in the interpreters, but in the tottering 
system, and such absurd, idiotic productions as that of Raymonda, in 
which it is physically impossible for a dancer to create a part for him- 
self, or elfin ballets in which there is practically no dancing, or utterly 
nonsensical ballets stuffed with ‘character’ parts. When it comes to real 
pearls like Giselle, La Fille Mai GardSe, Coppilia, Sylvia, the whole pro- 
duction is dictated by outworn traditions, that is, of course, when they 
are not cast cynically aside like a bundle of old rags. As for creating new 
ballets, the question simply does not arise. The dances themselves eter- 
nally repeat the old patterns — ^and though we do not deny M. Petipa’s 
talent, for, indeed, many of his groupings and folk dances are elective 
and charmingly designed, yet from that to real creation is a very long 
step. Little compositions are what they are, admirably executed, but alto- 
gether lacking in soul or meaning.” 

Benois treated the ballet with the utmost seriousness; to him it was one 
of the great arts, and thus we find him writing the following memorable 
words: “The Ballet is a universe in itself, which no one has yet ex- 
ploited, or even understood what mighty reserves of expression, har- 
mony, beauty, meaning it may conceal, even in comparison with 
tragedy.” 

No doubt Benois was setting his standards high, as may be seen from 
the manner in which he criticized Don Quixote, the first production to 
be put on by Gorsky, that young and talented ballet master of the Mos- 
cow ballet, at the Mariinsky Theater. Yet, though Benois applauded the 
reforms introduced by Gorsky, they did not entirely satisfy him. How- 
ever, from his article, one would be hard put to it to say what these 
reforms were and why they needed to be applauded. “Clearly the ballet 
master has ignored the legend, the ‘atmosphere,’ in composing his ballet. 
What he has sought instead is to charm die public by a sort of firework 
display of the costumes, a mad whirling of masses, of individual items 
introduced at just the propitious moment; not for a moment has he 
bothered about the beauty of the sets, dramatic contrasts, rhythm, or plastic 

8 Read Vsevoloj sky’s Costumes. 



"the world of art” epoch 85 

effects. It would really be most regrettable if M. Gorsky were to con- 
tinue in this easy, though somewhat unworthy, path. Another step, and 
we shall be finding ourselves in the very midst of those famous Viennese 
ballets, full of women whirling coquettishly to the sounds of an inter- 
minable waltz. Why, then, should we pay honor and glory to Gorsky 
if, seriously speaking, nothing has been gained by changing M. Petipa 
for a new ‘decadent’ routine of which we are tiring already?” 

Another thing, too, astonishes us. If Benois attaches such significance 
to rhythm and plastic art, why does he say that “the co-operation of 
artists like Golovin and Korovin is a first step towards raising the ballet 
to its level in the days of Fanny Elssler and Taglioni”? 

But whereas Benois saw a spark of art in the new ballets, Diaghilev, 
in an article on the “Ballets of Delibes” fiercely criticizes the theatrical 
management for the manner in which it produces its ballets, and notably 
those by Delibes, CoppMia, Sylvia, and La Source. " Copp^lia,” he wrote, 
“is the most adorable ballet- in the world, a unique pearl in the history of 
dancing. But heavens! how much effort it must have cost to tarnish and 

denature it to the extent this wretched evening has revealed As for 

the second ballet, Sylvia, the entire management of the Imperial Theaters 
half killed itself trying to turn it into a complete failure last year. . . . 
But I shall not waste time describing what Sylvia is, for anyone who 
knows Delibes must know the position he occupies in music, choreog- 
raphy and the plastic arts. There is only one thing that surprises me: 
how is it that in the entire directorate of the Imperial Theaters, there does 
not happen to be one man who realizes that if one loves choreography, 
classicism, and plastic art, it is impossible to love rubbish, or utterly point- 
less transformation scenes like that in Minkus’ Don Quixote, or Pugni’s 
far-too-celebrated Konio\ GorbunQ\^ which one can see at any fair; 
and first and foremost that the sets must not be entrusted to Korovin and 
Golovin? What an idea, to waste the time and strength of such talented 
painters in burdening them with so elementary a task!” 

Eventually, on December 8th, 1902, the Mariinsky Theater put on La 
Source, the third of Delibes’s ballets, whereupon The World of Art 
reported: “There is not much to be said about the production of this 
ballet, for the sets and decor were uglier and more intolerable than those 
made ten years ago. One novelty there was, however, for the dances are 
no longer produced in Petipa’s old manner, but as they are on the boards 
at the Zoo-Theater. Throughout the whole performance, the corps de 
ballet marched from one end of the stage to the other in perfect align- 
ment, performing every kind of gymnastics, while the ballerina danced 
up by the footlights. The management can now plead with perfect justice: 
‘a few more productions of this kind, and we shall have finished with 
every artistic tradition of the ballet.’ ” 

It would be futile to seek, in Diaghilev’s articles, for the reforms that 

® The hump-backed pony of the fairy tales. (Ed.) 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


S6 

that ballet really required. All he does is sharply to attack the complete 
absence of any artistic feeling in the official productions — ^nothing more. 
A far better idea of his opinions can be gained from the articles he con- 
tributed on the theater, than from the few lines inspired in him by 
the ballet. 

I have lingered too long perhaps on the art of the stage as reflected in 
The World of Art, and yet I consider it justified, for so little was said 
about the theater by the founder of the Russian Ballet, during his 
twenty years of devotion to it, that we must catch at every allusion made 
by him, or his closest collaborators. In this respect our most prolific 
source is The World of Art. JB tom it we may learn Diaghilev’s point 
of departure, and his guiding ideas in the task he was soon to assume. 



CHAPTER V 


EXHIBITIONS OF "THE WORLD OF ART” 

Exhibitions at the ^tieglitz Gallery 

THE EXHIBITIONS organized by The World of Art exercised a 
great influence on the review, for they greatly helped it to recruit both 
contributors and material for reproduction in its pages. Indeed, the ma- 
terial brought in in this way was far richer than that supplied by the usual 
contributors, or by the notices on Western art, or by the articles devoted 
to individual artists as selected by Diaghilev. 

The two first exhibitions of this kind, which took place in 1899 and 
1900, unhke those which followed, were exclusively expressions of Diag- 
hilev’s taste. The first, which opened on January i8th, 1899, and was 
held in the rooms of the Stieglitz Museum, was an international exhibition 
in the fullest meaning of the word. Round a nucleus of Russian artists 
such as Bakst, Benois, Golovin, Botkin, Vasnetzov, Vrubel, Lanceret, 
Levitan, Miliavin, Maliutin, Nesterov, Purvit, Polenova, Polenov, Pere- 
pletchikov, Repin, Svetoslavsky, Somov, Serov, Yakunchikova, were gath- 
ered works by foreign painters such as the Finns, Blomsted, Gallen, 
Ernefeldt and Enkel; the Frenchmen, Aman-Jean, Besnard, Blanche, 
Dagnan-Bouveret, Degas, Carricre, Latouche, Lhermitte, Menard, Puvis 
de Chavannes, Rafaelli, and Simon; the Germans, Bartels, Dill, Liebl, 
and Liebermann; the Englishman, Brangwyn; the Belgians, Bergren and 
Leon-Frederic; the Americans, Alexander, Tiffany, and Whisder; the 
Swiss, Bocklin; the Italian, Boldini; the Scotchmen, Patterson and 
Thomas; the Norwegian, Thaulow, and the Swede, Zorn. 

It is impossible to conceive what efforts it cost Diaghilev to organize 
this exhibition, which, in spite of proving a huge success in the eyes of 
the rising painters, the public, and society, was, vidth its organizer, bitterly 
criticized by the Press. 

The second exhibition organized by The World of Art, i.e., Diaghilev, 
was opened on January 28th, 1900, and was again held at the same 
gallery. It too proved very successful. On this occasion only the works 
of Russian artists were shown, among whom Serov, Levitan, Nesterov, 
Benois, Yakunchikova, Vrubel, Golovin, Maliutin, Somov, Lanceret, 
Bakst, Dossiekin, and a number of paintings of the eighteenth and early 
nineteenth century, composed of works by Levitzky, Borovikovsky, Brul- 
low, Kiprensky, etc. 

The third of these exhibitions was opened on January 5th, 1901, but 

87 



88 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

since Baron Stieglitz had ceased to rent his gallery, it was held in “enemy 
country,” i.e., at the Academy of Arts. Officially at least, Diaghilev was 
no longer assuming complete control, but actually it was hardly possible 
to withstand his dictatorial will, for well he knew both how to command 
and persuade. 


Difficulties of Organization 

Soon after the opening of the 1900 exhibition, on February 26th, a 
council meeting was called by The World of Art for the purpose of 
establishing a set of regulations under which subsequent exhibitions 
should be held. A central committee was also formed, consisting of two 
members — ^subject to annual election — ^in addition to the editor of The 
World of Art. As a result, the third exhibition was in fact organized 
by Diaghilev, A. Benois and V. Serov. As for the exhibitors, these were 
divided into three categories: “permanent” members, with the right to 
decide what paintings they would send, “guest” painters, specially in- 
vited, one at least of whose paintings must be selected by the organizers, 
and finally, painters who might occasionally be invited to exhibit if 
approved by seven permanent members. 

Many difficulties attended the organization of the 1901 exhibition, and 
much negotiating, both oral and written, before the Academy of Arts 
was prepared to lend its galleries. In Diaghilev ’s words, “they were loaded 
with insults, and beset with cunning intrigues, official protests and hosts 
of petty annoyances.” 

“What were we met with,” he wrote, “in response to our perfectly 
legitimate wish to organize our exhibition as tastefully and comfortably 
as we could? First, innumerable protests. When we substituted for the 
easels, wooden screens covered with canvas, we were told they were 
dangerous and highly inflammable, and as a result found ourselves in- 
volved in endless correspondence, committee meetings, negotiations. Our 
honorable professors and academicians actually tried to strike terror into 
the hearts of the public through interviews ‘that just happened to get’ 
reported in the newspapers. Others, and some of the most ‘venerable* 
at that, went so far as to state that our adversaries would not even hesi- 
tate to set fire to our show, so much did they hate us. In fact, now or 
never was the moment to hum that air from the Huguenots, ‘Charles has 
Enemies.’ When, in spite of all these miserable protests, the exhibition 
was finally opened, all our art critics found nothing better to do than 
mock at our ‘decadent’ venture, and declare that, ‘in boosting Zion- 
glinsky, we were forgetting Titian.”* 

Finally, as we have said, the exhibition was opened, the outstanding 
works being those by A. Benois (one, “The Pond in front of the Grand 
Palace,” was bought by the Emperor, who himself visited the show on 
February 3rd), I. Bilibin, I. Braz, A. Golovin, Korovin, Lanceret, Nes- 



EXHIBITIONS OF **THE WOBXD OF ART*^ 89 

terov, Ostroumova-Lebedeva, Perepletchikov, Purvit, Rushitz> Somov, 
Serov, Prince Trubetskoy, and Zionglinsky; sculpture by Golubkina and 
objects by Yakunchikova. In addition there were on show works by 
Bakst, Baksheyev, Vasnetzov, Vinogradov, Vrubel, Dossiekin, Maliutin, 
Maliavin, Mamontov, Ober, Okolovitch, Pasternak, Rylov, Riabushkin 
and Svetoslavsky. Comparing this exhibition with those o£ 1899 and 
1900, some new names are to be found: S. Vinogradov, who exhibited 
three pictures, Okolovitch (a pastel), Pasternak, Rylov and Riabushkin. 
The contagion of “decadence” seemed to be spreading. 

The 1902 exhibition opened on March 9th in the “Arcade” galleries. 
Though also organized by The World of Art, it enjoyed the collaboration 
of “The 36,” a group of Moscow painters, and proved brilliantly success- 
ful. But in 1903 a scission took place and “The 36” held their own 
exhibition. Diaghilev’s criticism of the separatists was a typical one, 
revealing yet again how completely objective he was in matters of art, an 
objectivity that was most clearly defined in his attitude to Repin: “I do 
not know,” he wrote, “which of the two aforementioned exhibitions suf- 
fered most from the parting. All I can say is, that those who control the 
fates of ‘The 36’ have too much taste to admit anything coarse or in- 
artistic, and thus their exhibition, as was to be expected, looked fresh 
and made a good impression.” 

'Death Warrant of The World of Art 

In 1903, yet another exhibition was organized by The World of Art 
and on February 15th a meeting was held by the various exhibitors 
about which we find A. Benois speaking somewhat reticently: “Our ex- 
hibitions, under the banner of The World of Art, came to an end a full 
year before the review. What was responsible for this catastrophe were 
the complications arising from the connection of our own exhibition with 
that, somewhat similar in character and composition, held in Moscow by 
‘The 36.’ This, however, was merely the excuse, for underneath lay an 
awareness that it was ‘time to stop.’ In passing, however, it may be 
added that our own exhibition, held in the rooms of the ‘Society for the 
Protection of Art,* proved unsatisfactory, both as to the pictures exhibited 
and the general effect.” 

More summary was the resume provided hy The World of Art: “This 
spring. The World of Art review will not hold its usual exhibition. 
The new ‘Society of Artists,* comprising participators in the exhibition 
held by ‘The 36’ in Moscow, and fhe majority of the fellow workers on 
The World of Art will, however, hold an exhibition in Moscow towards 
the end of December at the Stroganov school. The same exhibition will 
be shown in St. Petersburg during Lent. The absence of a constitution, 
and a severely critical selection committee — such was the foundation on 



po SERGE DIAGHILEV 

which TAe World of Art exhibitions were organized. A strict constitu- 
tion, and no selection committee is the basis o£ the ‘New Soaety.’ ” 

On the other hand, Igor Grabar provides us with rather fuller details 
in regard to the historic meeting of February 15th. At the outset of 
190^, we having opened our exhibition in St. Petersburg, all the mem- 
bers of The World of Art group suddenly appeared in St. Petersburg. 
Never before had such a concourse of artists gathered together, for all 
the Moscow painters seemed to have made a special point of appearing. 
Diaghilev opened the meeting, which was held in the editor’s office, and 
made a^ speech in which he said that, according to the information he 
had received, certain exhibitors felt they had grievances against the selec- 
tion committee, and that thus it was his duty to ask whether the moment 
had not come to plan their exhibitions on a new basis. He also alluded to 
certaiu of the Moscow painters who had openly expressed their dissatis- 
faction with the dictatorial powers arrogated by Diaghilev. 

“At first reluctantly, then more boldly, people began speaking. Eventu- 
ally, it was agreed that what would be preferable would be a larger 
selection committee, one with less power, and also less subject to ‘dic- 
tatorial outbreaks.* 

“I remained silent, for I saw that the Muscovites had mustered in such 
force to render a good account of themselves in the struggle against the 
St. Petersburgites. But what surprised me was to find that some of our 
painters, like Bilibin, Braz, etc., were suffering from a sense of injury, 
and fully agreed with the Muscovites. 

“The real thunderbolt, however, was Benois’ declaration, that he too 
was m favor of a new society. At this Diaghilev and Filosofov looked at 
one another. The former seemed very disturbed, the latter remained 
calm, though a sarcastic smile hovered on his lips. Eventually, the Mus- 
covite demands won the day. Everyone got up, and Filosofov, in a voice 
audible to everyone, said: ‘Thank God! this is the end.’ 

“The meeting broke up. A few of us remained. We were silent. What 
was there to say? We all knew that The World of Art had come to an 
end. It was a painful, anguished moment. 

“On February 15th, the death warrant of our exhibitions was signed, 
and with it, therefore, that of The World of Art!* 



CHAPTER VI 


THE IMPERIAL THEATERS 

Diaghilei/s connection with the Imperial Theaters 

IN JULY, 1899, Prince S. M. Volkonsky had been nominated director 
of the Imperial Theaters, and on September loth of the same year, Serge 
Diaghilev was appointed his special assistant. The two men had long 
known each other, for Prince Volkonsky had published (his only con- 
tribution, it is true) an article, entitled "Art,” in issues 3 and 4 of The 
World of Art, for the year 1899. 

Diaghilev, then aged twenty-seven, was both handsome and seductive. 
The white lock in the dark hair had won for him the sobriquet of 
“Chinchilla,” and his appearance on the managerial stafiE of the Imperial 
Theaters made a great impression on a number of artists, in particular, 
on the greatest and most influential of the stars of the Mariinsky Theater! 

“IVe just discovered 
Chinchilla in his box: 

And I’m horribly afraid 
I may make a misstep in my dancing.” 

So sang Mile, Mathilde Kshesinskaya, as she danced her variation in 
Esmeralda. Her liking for Diaghilev was exceedingly obvious, and as- 
tonished no one. Indeed, the other ballerinas would join in, too: 

“And I’m horribly afraid 
I may make a misstep in my dancing.” 

After her dance, Kshesinskaya would come up to the footlights and 
bow to the Chinchilla, whereupon Diaghilev would loudly applaud. 
They were very great friends. It flattered Diaghilev that the prima bal- 
lerina paid so much attention to him, when she herself was such a favor- 
ite with the Emperor and Grand Dukes, and so justly celebrated for her 
dancing throughout Russia. And Kshesinskaya herself was proud of the 
approbation of the young balletomane, whose artistic taste and connois- 
seurship were so universally admitted, who edited The World of Art, 
and whose exhibitions had earned for him the praise of even their Im- 
perial Majesties, 

Altogether, several special assistants were attached to the management 
of the Imperial Theaters (for instance, in 1889 there were seven) though 
their duties were of the lightest. Nevertheless, Prince Volkonsky decided 

91 



92 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

to make use o£ Diaghilev*s determination, energy and sure taste, by 
employing him on several “missions.” The editor of T'he World of Art 
could not be expected merely to adorn the directors’ box, with a monocle 
screwed into his eye. 

The Imperial Theaters* Annual 

The first of these special missions, therefore, was that of editing the 
Annual of the Imperial Theaters. Heretofore, this task had been en- 
trusted to Moltchanov, the famous Savina’s husband, who had per- 
formed his task in the most thoroughly bureaucratic manner. “But the 
moment Diaghilev was attached to the directorate of the Imperial 
Theaters,” wrote Prince Volkonsky, “Moltchanov himself bad the bright 
idea of resigning his position as editor of the Annual, for he had guessed 
that the task would be entrusted to Diaghilev, and no doubt secredy 
hoped that ‘the decadent’ would destroy himself in the process. Thus, 
we all awaited the first issue with the greatest impatience. Most of our 
functionaries connected with the arts, as well as the academically minded, 
were already highly incensed with The World of Art. Its youth and 
freshness seemed pure insolence to them, while the painters who had 
grouped themselves under its banner and who were later to be world- 
famous, such as Benois, Somov, Bakst, Maliutin, Serov, Maliavin, Roeh- 
rich, etc., were ridiculed by the whole Press, and The New Age in 
particular.^ Diaghilev felt he was being treated as a sort of ragamujffin; 
an ignorant helot in the arts. And the whole attitude of the Press, in 
announcing the approaching publication of the first issue of the Annual 
under a new editor, was both malevolent and mocking. 

“Nevertheless, when it finally appeared, it exceeded the most opti- 
mistic expectations, and sowed terror and dismay among those who had 
expected failure. 

“This first issue of Diaghilev *s Annual was to mark an era in the 
history of Russian bookmaking, an epoch notable for the production of 
such periodicals as Apollo, Bygone Years, The New Art, and examples 
of bookmaking such as those lay Lukomsky, Benois* monographs, and the 
‘Sirius’ editions; in fact, a mass of material impossible to enumerate.*’ 
That Prince Volkonsky to some extent exaggerates the importance of 
Diaghilev ’s Annual may be admitted. It was a judgment which would 

^ It must be admitted that Diaghilev, too, hardly bothered to consider The New Age's 
feelings, as we sec by this telegram published by Filosofov in The World of Art signed 
Bejanitzky, one of Diaghilcv’s favorite pseudonyms. 

"In tlianking you for your invitation to participate at the ceremony in honor of A. S. 
Souvorin, I send my cordial congratulations to The New Age. With all my heart, I 
hope that this periodical, one of the most important published in Russia, will venture 
a backward glance and admit that, during the whole twenty-five years of its activity, 
the evolution of Russian art has taken place irrespective of, and in opposition to, every 
idea ever expressed by The New Age. 

"The Editor: The World of Art, 

"Bejanitzky." 



THE IMPERIAL THEATERS 93 

have been perfectly justified, had the Annual for 1899-1900 (including 
a supplement dealing with 1898-1899) appeared not towards the end of 
1900, but early in 1898, for instance, before The World of Art yet ex- 
isted. If Diaghilev did indeed inaugurate a new epoch in the history of 
Russian bookmaking, it was his review which was responsible, and not 
the Annual^ epoch-making though that may have been in comparison 
with previous Annucds. Certainly, it was impossible ever again to issue 
it as in Moltchanov’s days, and Baron Driesen, who succeeded Diaghilev, 
did his best to maintain it at the same level. 

This Annualj indeed, proved a most notable Edition de luxe (though it 
practically “did for” the Office, since it cost twice as much as any pre- 
vious number to produce), one that was outstanding from every point 
of view, as much for the variety and abundance of the contents, as for the 
quality of the reproductions and the technical perfection of the printing. 

In addition to the material dealing with the activities of the Imperial 
Theaters, which had, perforce, to be included — covering productions, 
anniversaries, obituary notices, and itemized lists, such as plays, actors, 
staff, etc. — ^the Annual contained a number of articles of the greatest 
interest, such as V. Svetlov’s ninety-one pages dealing with “Choreog- 
raphy in Classical Times,” and a somewhat shorter article by Alexandre 
Benois on the “Alexandriinsky Theater.” More, I myself consider its 
itemized list of “Ballets performed at the Imperial Theaters in St. Peters- 
burg from the year 1828,” to be of the greatest value; indeed, on several 
occasions, I found it exceedingly useful when writing my Ballet Tra- 
ditional to Modern* 

But the real worth of this Annual lay in the artistry of its typography, 
for the volume abounded in vignettes, head and tail pieces, facsimile re- 
productions of eighteenth-century playbills and programs, and numerous 
insets. Of the latter, the most noteworthy were a portrait of the Empress 
Elizabeth Petrovna dressed for a masked ball, by G. H. Grott, two por- 
traits of F. Volkov and A. P. Sumarokov by Losenko (engraved by 
Walker), a portrait of I. Vsevolojsky by Serov, another of Moltchanov by 
Bakst, two portraits of C^sar Cui and Gay by Repin, another of Wagner 
by Lenbach, still another of M. Savina by Braz, three programs designed 
for the Hermitage Theater by Bakst and Somov, and many other items. 

In addition, many reproductions illustrated the various plays, operas 
and ballets staged by the Imperial Theaters, such as Othello, Oedipus 
Rex, Boborikin’s The Crime, Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, Lopukhin’s 
From the Moon to Japan, Glazunov’s The Ordecd of Damis and The 
Seasons, Drigo’s Harlequinade, Petipa’s DuprS's Pupils, Pugni’s Esmer- 
alda, Cesar Cui’s The Saracen, Puccini’s La Bohhme, Wagner’s Tristan 
and Isolde and Tannhduser, Berlioz’s The Trojans at Carthage, Serov’s 
Judith, Goethe’s Egmont, etc., etc. The illustrations for a new comedy 
by Borisov, Biron, are particularly interesting. (Baron Driesen errone- 
ously ascribes it to A. V. Polovtzov, and places the action in the reign 



94 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

of the Empress Elizabeth instead of that of the Empress Anne.) Each 
portrait of the main characters in the play, such as Biron, Prince Cher- 
kasky, Tretiakovsky, Count Minich, Count Bestuzhev-Riumin, was ac- 
companied by contemporary photographs of the actors in the costumes 
they wore for their impersonations (a procedure employed, though to 
a lesser extent, in illustrating other plays). 

Curious, too, were the reproductions of designs for ballets made by 
I. A. Vsevolojsky, Prince Volkonsky’s predecessor. And again, thanks to 
the co-operation of the painters associated with *The World of the 
photographs of actors and dancers were transformed into little master- 
pieces by being touched up with the addition of appropriate backgrounds. 
It was clear, therefore that Prince Volkonsky had acquired a very unusual 
collaborator. As he himself wrote: 

“Through Diaghilev I was able to avail myself of the co-operation of 
a number of painters. Apollinaire Vasnetzov, for instance, designed the 
sets and costumes of Sadl^p for me, and made of it something original 
and beautiful. In his posthumous Musical Chronicles t Rimsky-Korsakov 
speaks very favorably of this production, which means something in a 
book all bristling with prickles. I also made the acquaintance of other 
painters round Diaghilev. Everything seemed to be moving actively 
forward — as actively, that is, as was possible on dangerous ground, and 
managing the Imperial Theaters was certainly that — ^when suddenly, 
the incident happened.” 

But here, one is tempted to insert: “when suddenly Prince Volkonsky 
proved weak and vacillating and incapable of protecting Diaghilev.” 

Prince Vol\onsl(y and the ‘^Diaghilev Incident’* 

Prince Volkonsky must have known perfectly well that, by appointing 
Diaghilev to edit the Annual^ he would be bound seriously to annoy 
the permanent functionaries who managed the Theaters. Nevertheless, 
in spite of numerous protests, he adhered to his decision, with the result 
that Diaghilev was able to complete his task. Unfortunately, Prince 
Volkonsky’s courage soon failed him, with the result that an incident 
occurred in connection with Diaghilev *s succeeding "mission.” Here is 
the Prince’s version: 

“Diaghilev,” he writes in his memoirs, “possessed in the highest degree 
the quality of making himself disliked wherever he went. An under- 
ground revolt began to spread against him, in the ofl&ce, in the wings, 
in the sewing-rooms. I paid no attention, in the hope that the artistic 
results of his activity would make people overlook what they thought 
his arrogance and tactlessness. 

"Then one day, I handed the head clerk a written order stating that 
Diaghilev had been entrusted with the production of Delibes’s ballet 
Sylvia. This notice was to appear next day in the official order paper. 




Two Studies o£ Diaghilev 




THE IMPERIAL THEATERS 95 

That evening, two of my colleagues in the Office arrived, and warned 
me that my decision threatened to provoke so much discontent among 
the sta£E that they very much doubted whether any such order would 
be executed. I yielded ... the order was not printed, and I had to tell 
Diaghilev that I was withdrawing my promise.” 

Two observations seem necessary here. In the first place, anyone familiar 
with Russian bureaucratic institutions, especially those under the Ministry 
of the Imperial Court, must know that, though an “underground revolt” 
may be within the bounds of probability, it might easily have been dealt 
with, and was in no wise likely to affect the successful prosecution of 
a scheme envisaged by the director, whatever his “two colleagues” might 
have said. But the term is ill-chosen, for as director of the Imperial 
Theaters, Prince Volkonsky could only have underlings in his employ, 
and certainly not collaborators. In the second place. Prince Volkonsky’s 
account seeks to convey that having entrusted Diaghilev with the pro- 
duction of Sylvia, that very same night, in deference to the plea of his 
two collaborators, he reconsidered his- decision. Actually, something quite 
different had happened, for Prince Volkonsky changed his mind only 
when considerable progress had already been made with the designs 
for the new ballet. This fact is corroborated by a remark on Russian and 
Ludmila made .by A. Benois, which appeared in 1904 in The World of 
Art. Referring to the reforms which Prince Volkonsky proposed intro- 
ducing, Benois remarks that “his stay at the head of the Imperial 
Theaters has been all too short to permit him to carry out the many 
reforms in his mind. To give some idea of them, we may mention the 
new sets for Eugen Onegin, and the production of Sad\o from designs 
by Vasnetzov, the very first attempts to co-operate with real painters 
and not professional scene-painters. These plans should have reached 
fruition with Delibes’s Sylvia, and a certain number of painters had been 
called in to work out a setting, even to the minutest details, of this 
most admirable ballet. But the cowardice and indolence of the manage- 
ment have put a sudden end to these plans, and the building, with only 
its foundations laid, is left unfinished.” 

But to continue with Prince Volkonsky’s account: “Next morning, I 
received a written statement from Diaghilev in which he resigned the 
editorship of the Annual. This was followed by a whole bundle of letters 
from the painters, commissioned to redesign the ballet, declaring that 
they refused to work for me any longer. Whether I was right or wrong 
in breaking my promise is not the question. But I could certainly not 
tolerate such opposition on the part of an employee under my orders. 
I therefore demanded his resignation. He refused. I then submitted a 
demand for his dismissal: and at this point began all the pother.” 

Here again, we must complain not so much of the inaccuracies, as 
of the way things are glossed over. In the first place, was it a crime for 
Diaghilev to resign from his posidon as editor of the Annual: Molt- 



9 6 SERGE DIAGHBLEV 

chanov had done as muchj and Prince Volkonsky, pleased at his depar- 
ture, had made no objection to his resignation. On the other hand, could 
Diaghilev, in so far as he was a public servant, be held responsible for 
the fact that a number of “free,” independent painters had sent in a 
“whole bundle” of letters refusing to work any longer for the manage- 
ment? But also, two infinitely more important facts are glossed over: 
(i) that it was he himself who called on Diaghilev, at his own home, 
instead of sending for him, and formally demanded his resignation, a 
fact which gready influenced the future course of events; (2) while telling 
us he submitted a demand for Diaghilev’s dismissal, he slurs over the 
full significance of such a “dismissal without petition,” for in those 
days such a dismissal carried a much dreaded stigma. Indeed, any offi- 
cial dismissed under “Article 3” was deprived forever of the right to 
enter the Government service, and a “wolf’s passport” became his lot 
through life.® 

And it was this, this “wolf’s passport,” which Prince Volkonsky was 
intending to fasten on a man whose “artistic taste and connoisseurship 
were so universally admitted” and whom he himself admired for these 
very reasons. 

But to return to Prince Volkonsky: “Diaghilev’s will was like iron; 
nothing in the world could have stood in his way. Everything was set 
into motion: Kshesinskaya, the Grand Duke Serge Mikhailovitch, even 
the Emperor, heard of it. And what was strangest of all, was that the 
very people who had opposed me when I took up Diaghilev, now turned 
against me and defended him. Oh, human inconstancy! It was war to 
the knife. General Rydzevsky, acting for the Minister of the Imperial 
Court, Baron Frederichs, who was then ill, called on me bearing a letter 
from the Tsar, in which His Majesty demanded that no steps be taken 
to dismiss Diaghilev before he himself had discussed the matter.” 

This “war to the knife” might easilyi have been avoided, for all 
Diaghilev’s old enemies, having got their way, were now on his side, and 
the Tsar himself had asked for delay. ...But at this point Prince Vol- 
konsky reveals that though he might lack energy, one thing he did not 
lack — obstinacy. Whatever the cost, he was determined to win. And 
so he did . . . and by very odd means. 

Let us continue with his account of General Rydzevsky’s second visit. 

“I have just been talking to the Emperor, and have succeeded in get- 
ting his consent to the dismissal. It was lucky that you gave me the 
copies of your correspondence with Diaghilev: I showed them to the 
Emperor, and he said: 

“*If that’s the way things are, let the order be published.’ 

“*So it’s all finished and done with?’ I said. 

**Used here metaphorically; literally “wolfs passport” was a term applied to a docu- 
ment given to undesirable tramps to prevent them remaining in the same locality. This 
procedure had been obsolete for some considerable dme. (Ed.) 



THE IMPERIAL THEATERS 97 

“‘Who knows?* answered the General. ‘The notice cannot be pub- 
hshed till the day after tomorrow. But tomorrow the Grand Duke 
Serge Mikhailovitch might easily go and see the Tsar and get the 
whole thing changed. Anyway, I’ve made up my mind that if anyone 
telephones when I’m at home, they’re to say I’ve gone out and don’t 
know where I’m to be found.* 

“The next day I was rung up several times and asked whether 
General Rydzevsky was not at my house. And the following day the 
order notifying Diaghilev’s dismissal appeared. Thenceforth Diaghilev 
and I always cut each other.” 

Here Prince Volkonsky over-simplifies the negotiations which took 
place in coimection with Diaghilev’s dismissal. It was not once, but 
several times, that the Grand Duke Serge Mikhailovitch and General 
Rydzevsky sought out the Emperor at Tsarskoye Selo, and strove to make 
him reach a decision. “Pardon,” “dismiss,” “pardon,” “dismiss,” “par- 
don,” “dismiss,” so it went on. Even on the Grand Duke’s first outlining 
of the matter, hearing that Prince Volkonsky had called on Diaghilev at 
his home, the Emperor at once sided with Diaghilev, and said: 

“If I were Diaghilev, I should not have resigned.” 

The final decision of the Lord of all the Russias was also in Diaghilev’s 
favor. But we know how shady was the trick by which General Rydzevsky 
got the order dismissing Diaghilev published “pursuant to article 3.” 

Feeling somewhat conscience-stricken — ^for had he not agreed “he 
would not have resigned”? « (though Diaghilev, uncompromising if 
ever a man was, needed no such justification) — ^the Emperor, anxious 
to compensate him in some way, requested the Secretary of State, A, S. 
Taney ev, to provide Diaghilev with an appointment. But the Minister 
himself, Baron Frederichs, now back from his “cure,” pointed out that 
such a thing was quite impossible, in view of the “wolf’s passport.” 
Whereupon His Majesty exclaimed: “What a stupid law!” and forth- 
with ordained that a post be found for Diaghilev. 

In his book entitled The Russian Ballet, ig2i-i^2g, W. A. Propert 
reproduces a most interesting letter from Diaghilev, dated February 
17th, 1926, answering two questions set him by the author: the first, 
what was his opinion of Isadora Duncan; the second, asking details about 
his connection with the Imperial Theaters. To this last Diaghilev an- 
swered as follows: 

“From 1899 to 1901, I was attached for special duties to the director of 
the Imperial Theaters. I was young and full of ideas. For a year I edited the 
Imperial Theaters’ Annual; that went very well. I wanted to turn the 
theater into the path I have gone on following to this day. It did 
not succeed! A terrific scandal took place, in which Grand Dukes, Princes, 
Delilahs and aged Ministers all took a hand — ^in a word, fourteen reports 
were sent in to H JVf. the Emperor to get me cleared out. For two months 
St. Petersburg could talk of nothing else. Thanks to it, the director of 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


98 

the Imperial Theaters was throwa out, too, immediately afterwards. To 
the amazement of the whole bureaucracy, one week after my downfall, 
the Emperor had me appointed to his Personal Chancery. Soon after, 
I left Russia. The Emperor did not like me. He thought I was a ‘wily’ 
one, and once told my cousin, the Minister of Commerce, that he was 
afraid one day or other I might play him some scurvy trick. Poor 
Emperor, how ill-placed were his fears 1 How much better for him 
would it have been could he have summed up correctly those who did 
eventually play the fatal trick.” ® 

Not for long, then, did Prince Volkonsky keep his post, for, some weeks 
after, an incident which brought him into conflict with Kshesinskaya 
and die Grand Duke Serge Mikhailovitch, forced him to resign. Mile. 
Kshesinskaya had been fined for some breach of the rules, and the 
Grand Duke sought to have the order rescinded, whereupon Prince 
Volkonsky, opposing it strongly, was eventually forced to hand in his 
resignation. This happened in July, 1901. 

We may now turn back to the end of Prince Volkonsky’s story. 

“. . , Thenceforth, Diaghilev and I always cut each other. Nevertheless, 
I rejoiced at each of his successes, not only from the point of view of art, 
but also because they silenced his detractors. 

“Ten years after those wonderful exhibitions I saw him in Rome, at 
the restaurant Umberto, dining with many of the people with whom 
he was then working. I went up to him, and said; 

“‘Serge Pavlovitch, I have always been a fervent admirer of all you’re 
doing, and I feel I owe it to myself to tell you so personally.’ 

‘“It’s a long time since we met,’ he replied, ‘it makes me happy to 
be able to shake you by the hand again.’ ” 

“Thus ended the Diaghilev incident.” 

Anyone aware of Diaghilev’s uncompromising nature at moments may 
feel some astonishment that he manifested so little resentment. It may 
be explained, however, by the fact that his moods fluctuated greatly, and 
also by the fact that he had no great liking for his position with the 
Imperial Theaters, much preferring a career as a “gentleman free lance,” 
Thus the dismissal itself was in no way a blow to him. Nevertheless, 
his contact with the Imperial Theaters, to some extent, affected all his 
later activity, for it introduced him to a number of dancers, among 
others Fokine, who greatly aided him in the practical realization of 
the reforms he wished to introduce into the art of the stage, and so 
helped him to penetrate to the very core of the life of the theater. 

® The continuation of the letter in answer to the first of Propert’s questions throws much 
light on the origin of the Russian Ballet and its founder’s ideas. "I knew Isadora well in 
St. Petersburg, and with Fokine I was present at her first appearance. Fokine raved about 
her, and Duncan’s influence on him was^ the very foundation of all his creative activity. 
I’ve known Isadora all her life, as well in Venice where she wanted to marry Nijinsky, 
as in Monte Carlo, where she danced the tango with Massine, explaining meanwhile that 
in all dancing only one thing mattered — ^'the basic movements.’ Classical ballet in Imperial 
Russia never recovered from the impact of Isadora’s dancing.” 



CHAPTER VII 


THE LAST YEARS OF “THE WORLD OF ART” 

Diaghilev’s departure for abroad’, he criticizes modernism” 

FOR EIGHTEEN months after his dismissal, Diaghilev was never seen 
at the theater. True, very soon after the “incident,” in the late spring 
of 1901, he went abroad, and there he stayed till practically the end of 
1902, except for very short visits to Russia. But although he continued 
to edit The World of Art, maintained connection with the office, and 
sent it material from time to time, to all intents and purposes he had 
delegated the work to Benois and Filosofov, and his interest in the 
review was obviously declining. 

For the first six months of 1901 we find but one article contributed 
by Diaghilev, and that deals widi art exhibitions. Therein he contended, 
inter alia, that Repin was fundamentally much closer to his “enemies” 
of The World of Art than to his friends — ^the “Vagrants.” 

While abroad two articles were aU that was received from Diaghilev’s 
pen: “The Paris Exhibitions” and “Painting Exhibitions in Germany.” 
Though somewhat heavy in their treatment, these articles, both for size 
and content, w^re worth many shorter ones. A number of reproductions 
of paintings by Aman-Jean, A. Besnard, Anglade, Ch. Cotta, A. Dauchet, 
M. Denis, Simon, Zorn, Edelfcldt, Zuloaga, Carriere, La Gondara, Leibl, 
Leistikov, Olbrich, etc. etc., illustrated them. 

The Paris exhibitions, both that of the “Salon des Champs Elysces” 
and that of the “Champ de Mars,” seem, on the whole, to have proved 
disappointing. He was also somewhat dissatisfied with the modern school, 
which seemed to have “aged and gone gray,” a dissatisfaction which was 
to make him swing over to the “old masters.” “The main defect of all 
contemporary, so-called semi-advanced modernistic exhibitions,” he wrote, 
“is the abtmdance of advanced paintings on show. It is as though a 
remarkable discovery had been made — ^a formula for ‘modernism.’ Of late 
years, and especially since the World Exhibition, this formula has been 
more and more frequently employed. Even the very young seem to be 
marking time, have become well behaved, moderate, and fearful of ad- 
vancing too far, though careful of lagging behind. Not enough mis- 
takes are being made; one feels that the Claudes in the Louvre are no 
longer possible now, and that Corot, Monet and Besnard have done 
enough fighting to have the right to a little rest, 

“Meanwhile, the innumerable paintings at the ‘Champ de Mars’ trail 

99 



lOO 


SERGE DIAGHILEV 

in an endless stream across the rooms: really one might cut them up 
by the yard. All one sees are little Whistlers, Cazins or Simons; gray, 
‘soulful* landscapes, endless portraits, ‘symphonies in gray and green,’ and 
rugged Bretons either fishing or eating fish. 

“Happening to talk about the Salon to some French painters in some- 
what critical terms, they seemed astonished: ‘Is it really so bad? Isn’t 
it much as usual?’ 'As usual ! that is the enemy!” 

Zuloaga, de La Gondara, Maurice Denis and Anglade greatly delighted 
him. In Zuloaga Diaghilev at once saw “a painter of great importance, 
powerful to a degree to which we have long grown unaccustomed.” 

There is, however, no indication of a diminished interest in modern 
art in the conclusion of this article, for it ends on a personal note, in 
which the author seeks to transmit his own feeling about art to his 
readers, a feeling that objectivity can only be realized through the me- 
dium of the subjective. 

“Admittedly Besnard, Zuloaga and Gondara are excellent. That indeed, 
even on a world-wide scale, should be enough for a year: one can’t ex- 
pect a genius to be born every minute! If it were only that! Unfortunately, 
the real trouble, the depressing side of it all, is the complete absence 
of any vital enthusiasm, the fact that the fires are burning low, have 
indeed gone completely out on numbers of altars which now stand cold, 
magnificent, unchangeable and useless.” 

Exhibitions of Fainting in Germany 

Now let us take a rapid glance at the very long letter devoted to 
“Painting Exhibitions in Germany” and sub-divided into three sections, 
“Darmstadt,” “Dresden” and the “Berlin Secessionists.” It is a polemical 
letter directed against Richard Muther, one of the ablest critics of the his- 
tory of art, and in it Diaghilev ardendy supported the Darmstadt ven- 
ture, which bore the resounding tide “A Document of German Art,” 
and its efforts to create an artistic colony by way of protest against the 
“infinite hideousness in which the greater part of contemporary society 
exists without even being aware of the fact.” 

This “Dresden letter” is a sort of dithyramb in honor of the exhibi- 
tidn held in that city. There is no need to linger in detail on its enthu- 
siasms, for the only painters mentioned are those we know already 
from T!he World of Art. 

We shall note only one new feature in this exhibition, for it corre- 
sponded with much in Diaghilev’s thought and trends at the time, and 
thus enabled him to express, in high relief, such ideas as were most dear 
to him, and were indeed the prime source of all his eclecticism: “Last 
spring, at a meeting of those exhibiting at The World of Art exhibition, 
a proposal was made which provoked some very lively argument. It was 
suggested that, for the future, contemporary paintings should be hung 



lOI 


THE LAST YEARS OF "THE WORLD OF ART” 

side by side with the paintings o£ the past, and not in a separate room 
as heretofore. Thus a Serov would be succeeded by a Levitzky, a Boucher 
by a Somov, and so on. The idea seemed deserving of serious considera- 
tion, for after all, we spend a good deal of time nowadays talking about 
freedom in the arts, its infinite variety, while on the other hand deploring 
its decadence. If then, indeed, contemporary art is as decadent as some 
would have it, it will be bound to collapse under such a test: but if, 
again, as we venture to think, it has sufficient vitality and freshness of 
its own, then it has nothing to fear in comparison with its illustrious 
predecessors. The suggestion therefore was accepted, and this compara- 
tive exhibition was to have been held. No idea, however, it appears, can 
claim originality, for to my surprise I found our plan had already been 
carried out in Dresden. And I must admit that the effect was most im- 
pressive. Though the productions of contemporary art preponderated, 
they seemed both enriched and sanctioned by the contiguity of the great 
classical painters of the past. There was a quite unusual feeling of opu- 
lence and completion about that line of pictures in which Besnard alter- 
nated with Van Dyck, Zuloaga with Leibl, Velasquez with Watts, and 
so on. Not one of these contrasts proved in any way startling; on the 
contrary, the various masters complemented each other perfecdy and 
provided triumphant proof that real works of art arc created irrespective 
of formula or epoch" 

In this letter Diaghilev says but little about individual artists. One 
exception, however, is made in regard to the French sculpture. Carries, 
then recently deceased, an exhibition of whose work hdd in 1895 had 
already greatly impressed him. 

Since the “Berlin Secessionists” were of “very minor importance,” there 
was obviously but little need to write much about them. Nevertheless, 
Diaghilev goes at some length into the then vexed question of “secession,” 
for in his eyes, small exhibitions, held all over the place, were pure waste 
of time, and held no promise for the future. Their one justification might 
be their purely local effect (like that of a provincial newspaper), but 
that justification no longer existed, since a certain number of painters, 
always the same, had made a habit of seceding, transferring themselves 
to one group after another, in the attempt to get themselves shown as 
frequently as possible. 

Diaghilev’ s plans for a Russian National Gallery 

Diaghilev returned from abroad a greatly changed man. The wild 
enthusiasms were now tempered, his conversation was more restrained, 
and he was altogether less boisterous and optimistic. Most striking of 
all, his interest in contemporary art had practically vanished. As for 
The World of Art, it interested him litde. 

Nevertheless, The World of Art rested on so sound a basis, and those 



loz SERGE DIAGHELEV 

guiding its fortunes had acquired so much experience, that it continued 
to appear as before, and even to grow, thanks to a number of new con- 
tributors. Meanwhile, its orientation was, litde by little, changing. 

It would hardly be true to say that Diaghilev had totally abandoned 
Thff World of Art, for he still took an interest in it, but to a far less 
degree, and with altogether less enthusiasm and energy than he had mani- 
fested in the years 1899 and 1900. For the moment he was completely 
engrossed in other and more grandiose plans. But such indeed was his 
nature, since he was constitutionally unable to remain satisfied with one 
thing, and one thing only, for any length of time. It was impossible 
for him to stabilize himself, or to find peace in something already achieved. 
He said litde, however, about his new plans, having by now grown 
altogether less expansive. Nevertheless, they were not difficult to guess. 
His principal scheme, or dream, if you will, was the creation of a 
National Gallery of Russian Art, on a scale more vast than anything 
that existed in Europe, to embrace the whole history of Russian painting. 
Another dream was that of writing a full and documented account of 
the history of Russian painting beginning with the eighteenth century. 

These plans were no castles in Spain, for Diaghilev immediately set 
to work to bring about their realization with all the energy and enthu- 
siasm of which he was capable. When it was essential to shut himself 
up for days in his study, or bury himself amid dusty archives, Diaghilev, 
to whom such work was abhorrent, let nothing deter him. When it was 
necessary, for the same purpose, to drive over miles and miles of our 
abominable roads, unendurable as that must have been to one so ac- 
customed to the comfortable railways of Europe, none the less he would 
set out. 

A glimpse of these schemes is provided by a long article “On Russian 
Museums” and a short notice, both of which appeared in The World of 
Art for the year 1901, 

What strikes one immediately about the lengthy article “On Russian 
Museums” is the style, by no means journalistic, and the documentation, 
which reveals how much preliminary research had already gone to the 
project. In it a number of the most important galleries are dealt with, 
such as the Tretiakov Gallery and the Alexander III and Rumianzev 
Museums; but through it all his dream is constantly appearing — that of 
creating a unique National Gallery. After a brief animadversion on the 
Tretiakov Gallery, which he sees as a collection illustrating but a single 
page of Russian painting (almost wholly devoted to the years 1860-1890), 
he goes on to discuss the Alexander III Museum, which provides “a 
unique opportunity for gathering together representative works of the 
whole of Russian art (both painting and sculpture) from its origins, 
i.e., the time of Peter the Great, to our own day.” 

After discussing the manner in which this museum was founded, he 
goes on to deal with its disparate elements, drawn from various sources: 



THE EAST YEARS OF “THE WORLD OF ART” IO3 

the Russian room in the Hermitage, the museum in the Academy o£ 
Arts, the collection in the Palace of Tsarkoye Selo, the collection of Prince 
Lobanov-Rostovsky, and that of Princess Tenishev, and their lack of 
any real unity. At the time this article was written the museum had 
been in existence for five years, but nevertheless nothing had been done 
to arrange the items, the curators themselves had but the vaguest notion 
of the contents, and in spite of numerous acquisitions, not one single out- 
standing painting had been acquired. As for more recent acquisitions, 
all Diaghilev could say of them was: ^^Invariably the worst pictures at 
any show are always bought by this museum." After which, he went on 
to say that to his mind the museum had far more important problems 
to solve,, the chief of which was to gather together the Russian paintings 
still to be found scattered about the Imperial Palaces, ‘‘whose wealth of art 
treasures is beyond imagination.” Whereupon there follows a detailed 
list, derived from his visits to the archives, of all the objects which might 
enrich the National Museum. “The Alexander III Museum might at this 
moment, were the Government willing to co-operate^ possess, without 
making a single purchase jrom any individual ^ thirty-nine of the best 
works of Levitzky, and, as a cursory glance at the Palace inventories 
shows, at least forty-eight paintings by Borovikovsky, of which three- 
quarters are absolutely first-class....” Diaghilev further suggests that all 
old masters be collected from the Chinese Gallery in the Gatchina Palace, 
the Treasury of the Ministry of the Imperial Court, the Moscow Armory, 
the Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Arts, the Holy Synod, the 
Alexander-Nevsky Monastery, the Rumianzev Museum, etc. A number 
of serious reforms are also suggested by him, “. . . the actual structure 
must be radically altered. Paintings having absolutely nothing in com- 
mon, belonging to different schools and with no common link, are 
hung together, thus robbing them of aU beauty and individuality, and 
making them clash with each other. As for the catalogue, the informa- 
tion it provides is a model of inexactitude [and here Diaghilev gives 
some illuminating examples]. 

“This museum should be representative of our history as revealed 
in painting,” he continues. “Our great men have been painted by our 
most famous masters, and our sovereigns have time and again com- 
missioned notable masters to come from abroad and paint their portraits. 
These painters often established themselves in Russia for years. It is 
of the utmost importance that all this should be gathered together into 
one unique whole. Would not that be an impressive undertaking.?” 

Diaghilev also demanded the introduction of reforms in the manner 
in which the gallery was administered, and in the preservation and 
restoration of the paintings. 

All in all, this article must be considered as a report, admirably pre- 
sented, by a lover of the arts; one who had studied his subject pro- 
foundly, was perfectly at home in it, and was prepared, with all the 



104 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

energy at his disposal, to take a hand in carrying it out. It would there- 
fore only have been logical, and may we not assume that, secretly perhaps, 
Diaghilev was hoping something of the kind, for him to have been 
entrusted with the task of reorganization? But, alas, nothing happened, 
for the “powers” turned a deaf car. Fortunately, however, the material 
collected by Diaghilev proved far from useless. Indeed, it contributed 
largely towards the realization of another project which followed as a 
natural consequence of the first: namely, the organization of an Exhibi- 
tion of Russian Portraits, chosen in regard to their artistic and historical 
importance. 

Diaghilev as historian of Kussian painting: his book on Levitzky 

In an earlier passage I referred to a note published in The World oj 
Art towards the end of 1901. It is so short that I quote it fully: 

“We have pleasure in announcing the appearance next January (xpoz) 
of the first volume of an illustrated work to be published by The World 
of Art, entitled Russian Painting of the Eighteenth Century. The com- 
plete work will comprise three volumes, the first of which will be devoted 
to D. G. Levitzky, the second to the following painters of the second 
half of the eighteenth century, Rokotov, Anthropov, Drozgin, Shibanov, 
Argunov, Shchukin, Shchedrin, etc,, and the third to V. L. Borovikovsky. 

“Given the fact that the majority of the works painted by the above- 
mentioned artists are only to be found in private collections, the editors 
appeal to all who may possess examples to communicate with them, at 
Fontanka ii, St. Petersburg. In regard to the critical material and text, 
this will be contributed by V. P. Gorlenko and A. N. Benois. The work 
is intended to assemble a mass of dispersed and largely ignored material, 
illustrating the lives and work of some of our most remarkable painters 
and will be accompanied by the best reproductions available.” 

Nevertheless, the work was not completed by January, 1902, nor even 
by February, 1902 (as a fresh announcement in The World of Art 
promised) . But, in the course of 1902, there appeared an important mono- 
graph by S. P. Diaghilev entitled: Russian Painting of the Eighteenth 
Century, Vol. I, D. G. Levitzky, 1735-1832, which, in 1904, was to re- 
ceive the highest award of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, the Prix 
Uvarov. 

This volume proved to be a most magnificent specimen of the printer’s 
art, the whole production being a very model of good taste, for the 
paper was excellent, the typography perfect, and the title-pages had 
been designed by Lanceret and Somov. In addition, the pages were en- 
riched with remarkable collotype reproductions of contemporary docu- 
ments, besides containing numerous vignettes, head and tail pieces, and 
reproductions of j2i portraits painted by Levitzky, of which 63 were 
insets, the rest being grouped together in the appendix. 



THE EAST YEARS OF '*THE WORLD OF ART” IO5 

The text also revealed itself as a document of the utmost importance 
for the history of Russian art, in every way deserving of the award 
made by the Academy of Sciences. But what most clearly revealed the 
vast stores of knowledge, the devoted effort which had gone into the 
work, was the convincing manner in which Diaghilev had identified a 
number of works by the painter. Here at last was permanent proof of 
the profundity of Diaghilev’s intuition, a quality indispensable to the 
expert, and of his analytical, synthesizing, intellect. This work reveals 
Diaghilev at his best. And yet it illustrates his great weakness. For though 
brimming over with original, creative ideas, he had the utmost difficulty 
in expressing them in an illuminating and inspiring manner. And that 
was doubtless why, giant though he was in matters of art, he has left 
us so little of his own. 

In this work Diaghilev has set himself a double task: that of tracing 
a number of portraits no longer in the possession of their original owners, 
and that of “tracing works of which no mention is made in contemporary 
documents.” “This latter task,” he continues, “seems to me far more im- 
portant and exciting. To that end I have approached numbers of 
people whom I had reason to think owned works by Levitzky (thirty-six 
replies) . I also made use of the Press, at first in the form of an announce- 
ment in the Art Notes (one reply), and then in the shape of a letter 
to the editor (twenty replies). Finally, towards the end of 1901, I sent a 
circular letter to all the governors of provinces, and district marshals 
of nobility, about 600 in all (28 replies).” 

The activity manifested by Diaghilev was fully rewarded, and he was 
soon in a position to publish a list of works, which, for completeness, far 
exceeded anything so far compiled on the history of Russian painting. It 
was a list which classified the works of Levitzky in two categories: “(i) 
those undeniably his, or obviously attributable to him; (2) such por- 
traits as were known to exist, but were no longer discoverable.” Here, 
in masterly fashion, Diaghilev dealt analytically with ninety-two exist- 
ing works, two other works known to have been copied by the painter, 
and fifteen portraits impossible to trace. 

Another feature of the work was a “chronological list of portraits 
painted by D. G. Levitzky between 1769 and i8i8,” the critical notes to 
each work being accompanied by additional material relating to the 
painter and sitter. “This list also contains,” he says, “much biographical 
detail relating to the personages painted by Levitzky. A certain amount 
has been borrowed from the works of Rovinsky and Petrov, but the rest 
is so far unpublished, having been culled from documents, memoirs and 
works personally discovered in the Department of Archives. Generally 
speaking, I have confined myself to externals in the lives of the sitters, 
since it is their vital activities which, more than anything, throw light 
on the manners and customs of the epoch.” In fact, the “list” proves to 
be a catalogue raisonni which occupies sixty of the seventy-four pages 



Io6 SERGE DIAGHIEEV 

which make up the whole book. Preceding it, we find a preface, and 
the following statement by Diaghilev: “The object aimed at in this work 
is not that of resurrecting an episode in Russian art, but of reconstruct- 
ing, as fully as possible, its most brilliant epoch; an epoch rich in talented 
artists, which came to a sudden flowering after the timid, apprentice- 
efforts of the period of Peter the Great, but which as suddenly faded 
away in the stentorian neo-classicism of the early nineteenth century. 

“In a word, in so far as it is concerned with the nineteenth century, 
this work gathers together all those elements which prepared the way 
for Kiprensky and Venetzianov, while omitting whatever might bear 
on Lossenko and his school, those dead and aJffected precursors of Brul- 
low*s triumphs.” 

What an admirable and tempting task! For Diaghilev, with his pro- 
found knowledge of the whole range of eighteenth-century Russian 
painting, his profound understanding of Levitzky, might well have suc- 
ceeded in realizing his program ... had he only possessed the slightest 
talent as an author, the slightest gift for creative expression. Unfor- 
tunately, Diaghilev had no notion of, no liking for, writing; and that 
is why his book does infinitely less than justice to either his learning, or 
flair. It is obvious that, in order to arrive at his conclusion and success- 
fully accomplish his task, much research had been necessary and from 
numerous angles — though most important of all was the emotional re- 
sponse. Unfortunately, he was utterly incapable of expressing anything 
of all this, and his monograph, therefore, remains a compilation admirably 
documented. Much as we might expect a vital, inspiring approach, we 
do not find it . . . and though it was there, deep inside, as part and parcel 
of his very being, the means to express it were utterly lacking. The very 
“conclusion,” is a confession of the tragic impotence of its author. “With 
all my heart, I hope that this list of Levitzky’s works will be enriched 
by the discovery of other products of his fragrant talent. Should I have 
gone astray in thus surveying the works of the beloved master, I shall 
be grateful for any information which may put me right.” 

This conclusion is followed by some twenty pages devoted to the 
painter’s life. It is not, however, by Diaghilev, excellently well-informed 
though he was, but by Gorlenko. The tragedy of this great man was, 
that profoundly sensitive though he was in matters of art, in spite of his 
undoubted originality and arresting conversation (though only in pri- 
vate), in spite of his inspiration and enthusiasm, he was unable to com- 
municate anything of it at all in writing. . . . 

Monograph on the portrait painter Shibanov 

Meanwhile, Diaghilev continued to study eighteenth-century Russian 
painting, and in 1904 published an admirable article dealing with Shi- 
banov, the portrait painter. His researches in connection with Shibanov 



THE LAST YEARS OF *'THE WORLD OF ART” IO7 

had led him to an important discovery, namely, that there had in fact 
been two painters of that name, one Alexis, the only example of whose 
work was a copy after Guercino, a "St. Matthew,” preserved in the 
Academy of Fine Arts; the other, Michael, Potemkin’s serf, painter of 
the famous Kiev portrait of Catherine II wearing a fur hat, of that of 
Mamonov, her squire, and of the two portraits of the Spiridovs. Having 
proved that neither of these latter portraits could justly be attributed to 
Alexis Shibanov, the subject of his article, Diaghilev turns to Michael: 

“It is at this point,” he says, "that this article on Shibanov’s ‘famous 
portraits,* should really begin. Unhappily, we know nothing about that 
painter’s life, and only some lucky chance may eventually enable us to 
pierce the mystery which enshrouds the existence of this great Russian 
painter, and the conditions in which it was possible for his talent to 
ripen.” 

This, and the preceding work, mark the emergence of Diaghilev as a 
serious and competent critic of eighteenth-century Russian painting, a 
connoisseur in fact. In 1903, for instance, it is Diaghilev as expert, who 
in The World of Art criticizes both the "Exhibition of Russian Historical 
Portraits,” and its "'Catalogue RaisonnS of 150 Years of Painting,” edited 
by Baron N. Wrangel with A. N. Benois* close collaboration. In a 
masterly and authoritative manner, he corrects a number of errors in 
both, such as the statement that Lossenko was a pupil of Jacob Argunov, 
when in fact he had studied under Jean of that name; and the classifica- 
tion of a work as by Borovikovsky when it was merely a poor copy, and 
vice versa. 

In 1901, A. Benois was appointed editor of a periodical entitled Artistic 
Treasures of Old Russia, and since Diaghilev’s interest in old Russian 
masters had, if anything, deepened, the two men found themselves more 
closely linked than ever by this interest. It was an interest which could 
not fail to affect The World of Art. Thus in 1902 we find it devoting 
considerably more space than before to "Russia’s Artistic Treasures.” As 
a result its pages began to teem with reproductions of works by Borovi- 
kovsky, Vehetzianov, Voile, Grott, Daw, Kiprensky, Levitzky, Rokotov, 
Count Rotari, Torelli, Count Raslin, the architect Voronikhin, Prince 
Gagarin, Zakharov, B. Rastrelli (Smolny Monastery), Rossi, and many 
photographs of monuments in St. Petersburg, etc. 

The end of The World of Art 

It was not difficult to foresee that 1904 was destined to mark the final 
disappearance of The World of Art. Only the first issue bore the im- 
print of the dictator, "Editor-Publisher, S. de Diaghilev.” All in all, this 
first issue was an exceptionally well-balanced one, containing as it did, 
thirty-three illustrations by A. N. Benois to Pushkin’s "Bronze Horse- 
man,” twenty-eight reproductions from works shown at the exhibition 



I08 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

o£ Finnish painting by Vickstroem, Vlassov, Hallem, Hallonen, Daniel- 
sen, Ernefeld, Zimberg, Thom(^, Edelfeldt, Enberg and Enkel, as well as 
a number of engravings by Ostroumova-Lebedeva of a project for a 
monument to Peter the Great. The next issue, however, was to contain 
the additional words “Editor, A. N. Benois.” 

Diaghilev, engrossed in organizing his “Art and Historic Exhibition 
of Russian Portraits,” and by the incessant journeys it necessitated, now 
lacked time for The World of Art, In addition, he felt that some public 
and striking gesture should be made on behalf of Benois, who, in 1903, 
had been forced to resign from the editorship of The Artistic Treasures 
of Old Russia. This he accomplished by relinquishing The World of Art 
into his hands. 

The World of Art, however, continued in its old path, though with a 
more marked bent towards archaeology, and greater efforts to familiarize 
its readers with the “art treasures” of the past, tendencies obviously de- 
termined by the new editor. By degrees, too, the latter was successful in 
diminishing the number of pages allowed to Filosofov, as may be seen 
from the contents list of the 12th and last issue. It is as follows: 

A, Benois: Exhibition of Historic Works of Art. St. Petersburg, 1904. 

/. Bilibin: Popular Art in Northern Russia. 

V. S, V eniaminov: Archangelskoye. 

A, Ivanov: Loge Siegfried. 

P. Nicolaev: The Poetry of the Middle Ages, depicted in miniatures 
(with a headpiece by Lanceret, and other decorations from German 
works of the fifteenth century), 

A. Uspensky: The Patriarchal Vestry in Moscow. 

I. Fomin: Moscow Classicism. 

It is worthy of note that every illustration in this issue refers to one 
or other of these articles. 

During the second half of 1904, there was included a new section 
devoted to “Art History,” the preliminary announcement for which ap- 
peared in the following terms: 

“For some time past, The World of Art has felt the need for a section 
which would correspond to the ‘Notes,* etc., found in foreign periodicals. 
We propose, therefore, to include in such a section, whatever may be 
considered outstanding in the way of Russian or foreign art material 
which would otherwise find no place under any of the headings to which 
we devote the major portion of each issue. An enormous amount of the 
most interesting material is thrust aside, and so remains unknown, simply 
because our editors fear to mention it, not knowing under what head, 
what label, what system, to classify it. 

“In the past, something of what we have in mind formed part of the 
first issues of The Artistic Treasures of Old Russia, And something of 



THE LAST YEARS OF *'THE WORLD OF ART” IO9 

the sort, we may add, was attempted m The World of Art, under the 
heading ‘Information,’ during the first years of its existence.” 

In this, the last year of The World of Art's existence, all we can find 
are two articles contributed by Diaghilev, one devoted to the “Exhibition 
of the Union of Russian Painters,” the other to “News from the Moscow 
Art Theater.” 

After which. The World of Art came to an end, as is generally sup- 
posed, on account of financial difficulties. 

Causes of the discontinuance of The World of Art 

Financial difficulties had arisen at the end of the very first year of 
the review’s existence, and may be attributed largely to the resignation 
from the editorial board of Princess M. K. Tenishev and Sava Mamon- 
tov, and their refusal to contribute further financial assistance. A. N. 
Benois tells the story as follows : 

“S. Mamontov was the first to withdraw his subsidy, his affairs having 
taken a turn for the worse and now being in a somewhat shaky condition, 
to be followed soon by Princess Tenishev. My own relations with the 
latter and E. C. Chetvertinskaya had changed considerably, too, and 
really for a very trivial reason (the truth probably being that both ladies 
had had enough of being dictated to by someone they considered a 
mere ‘schoolboy,’ given the fact they had known me as a lad). Thus, 
there was a complete break in our relations. On the other hand, our 
Maecenas, then recently returned from abroad, had fallen under the in- 
fluence of Adrian Prakhov, who was in every way opposed to us. But, 
whatever the reason, her attitude towards ‘her spiritual godchild’ sud- 
denly changed, and actually, shortly before, she had presented her Rus- 
sian collection to the Alexander III Museum, and was no longer interested 
in Western art. Anyway, she sent for Diaghilev and Filosofov, and in- 
formed them they could no longer count on her financial support. This, 
for them, meant a considerable loss, since the review was so luxuriously 
printed that mere subscriptions could not hope to cover the cost. To some 
extent, she could hardly help behaving as she did, considering the way 
in which the newspapers had begun to attack her, often very humorously; 
though in the most taedess and scandalous manner. For instance, the 
Bouffon published some caricatures in which ‘Old Judge’ (Shcherbov) 
made a point of ridiculing not only the Princess’s generosity, but also 
Diaghilev’s wholly disinterested devotion to the arts. 

“The ragtag and bobtail of the art world, too, was highly incensed with 
the Princess for purchasing a decorative panel painted by Vrubel, who, if 
I remember righdy, had only just appeared in St. Petersburg. In the cari- 
cature mentioned above, the Princess Tenishev was depicted as an ugly 
common woman of the people, bargaining with Diaghilev, as a second- 
hand furniture dealer, for a sort of greenish counterpane, bearing a vague 



no SERGE DIAGHILEV 

resemblance to a panel, which she was attempting to purchase for one 
ruble (a very poor pun on Vrubel). In another caricature, she was de- 
picted as a cow being milked by Diaghilev.” 

Diaghilev’s exhibitions enjoyed the high favor of the Tsar, who visited 
them all, and on each occasion had long talks with the organizer. About 
this time, too, Serov was painting the Tsar’s portrait, and was able with- 
out much difiiculty to persuade his royal sitter to accord The World of 
Art a yearly subsidy of 30,000 rubles. Later, when Nicholas II lost inter- 
est in Diaghilev and Serov, this subsidy was withdrawn, and the founder 
of The World of Art was forced to rely on his friends, and his own far- 
from-bulging pockets. 

A. Benois also recounts the financial difficulties which arose in 1904, 
but his very words reveal that these were rather the pretext than the 
cause. “The paper had to come to an end, for we already knew... that 
the year 1904 was bound to be its last. True, just as it was on the point 
of expiring, we all felt exceedingly regretful, and Diaghilev, who had had 
his official subsidy withdrawn, by now being very anathema to the court, 
once more decided to approach our first Maecenas, the Princess Teni- 
shev, whereupon the latter, who no longer bore us any ill will for the 
trivial incidents which had driven us apart, immediately responded to 
his appeal. Nevertheless ... *xt had to come to an end.’ We were all ob- 
sessed by the thought, one proof being the unbelievably (for him) dila- 
tory way in which Diaghilev conducted his negotiations with the 
Princess. Just when it all seemed arranged, the whole thing came to an 
absolute full stop, the pretext being a wholly insignificant point which the 
Princess wished inserted in the agreement. The Princess, influenced by 
Prakhov and Roehrich, still hoped to foster a renaissance of our Na- 
tional art. But, in spite of diat hope, the review failed to appear the 
following year.” 

This tale of A. Benois’ is so inaccurate that it calls for substantial cor- 
rection. To begin with, the negotiations were not interrupted in the 
middle, but were brought to a successful conclusion. Furthermore, it 
was not “us,” i.e., Diaghilev and friends, who “broke them off,” but 
Princess Tenishev, who made it known, through the Press, that she was 
no longer inclined to participate in its publication. Lastly, it was again 
not “we” who had taken exception to an “insignificant point,” but the 
Princess; that “minor point” being of a nature hardly to be forgotten by 
A. Benois. 

This is what really happened. Princess Tenishev was insisting that one 
of the conditions for her participation in the publication of The World 
of Art must be A. Benois’ retirement from the editorial board. This con- 
dition was accepted by Diaghilev during the negotiations, but in the end 
he was unable to bring himself to betray his friend and co-editor. “Soon,” 
so the Princess relates, “the papers announced that subscriptions to the 
review were now being taken, and mentioned my participation in it as 



Ill 


THE LAST YEARS OF ”THE WORLD OF ART*’ 

co-editor. In the list of collaborators I saw the name of A. Benois. 
Diaghilev thereEore had again gone contrary to his promise, and, as be- 
fore, regardless of my feelings. I immediately made it known, through 
the medium of the same papers, that I had nothing to do with the review, 
or any intention of collaborating with it in the future. And that was 
the end of The World of Art. 

This refusal, however, only proved fatal to The World of Art because 
many other causes were working in the same direction — ^to cite only 
one, the meeting held on February 15th, 1903, which pronoimced the 
death sentence of those exhibitions which had been so intimately part of 
The World of Art. 

What was decisive for the fate of The World of Art was the fact that 
it was no longer needed by Diaghilev. A dreadful memento mori had 
struck his ears, the oracle to which he had alluded in his article devoted 
to the Moscow Exhibition of the Union of Russian Painters. I quote the 
end, it is very revealing. 

“It is terrible to think of the future of the ‘Vagrants’ now that the 
‘Union* has lured away their last remaining forces. Indeed, it is a most 
instructive example, one that might serve as a dreadful memento mori 
for the ‘Union’ itself. The birth throes of a new ‘cause* are always pain- 
ful, though profoundly interesting, and possessed of ‘all the intoxication 
of Spring.’ But a moment comes when the first autumnal leaves begin 
falling, and then, beware! It is all too easy to turn into toothless old 
‘vagrants,* to that well-known refrain from The Queen of Spades, ‘yester- 
year’s days and poets.* 

“But though it be an historic, ineluctable law, must the end mean 
always decay, and can one not be ‘borne living into the heavens’ ? Surely 
it is infinitely more possible in art, than in any other province.” 

Diaghilev believed that his mission on The World of Art was ended. 
He was utterly unable to continue with it, or, marking time, to drag 
it after him. 'Ilius, refusing to accept decay, he was, with The World of 
Art “borne living into the heavens.” 

So ends the first period of Diaghilev’s apostolic service to art. 

^^The Art and Historic Exhibition of Russian Portraits** 

In a note written in 1900, relating to the portraits painted by the great 
Russian Masters of the eighteenth century, at that time scattered about 
the country, we find V. Veniaminov, in the “Chronicles” of The World 
of Art writing as follows: 

“Anyone who organized a general exhibition devoted to Russian paint- 
ing of the eighteenth century would be rendering a priceless service to 
the historiography of our art. Sudhi an exhibition would help us to re- 
solve many problems and perplexities.”^ 

Was Venianimov here expressing one of Diaghilev’s ideas, or some- 



Iiz SERGE DIAGHILEV 

thing he was thinking himself? In any case, this was the moment chosen 
by the founder of The World of Art to begin organizing an exhibition 
devoted to Russian painting of the eighteenth century. 

By 1902, the whole plan has been outlined and begins to take prece- 
dence over all else in Diaghilev’s mind. His plan for reorganizing the 
Alexander III Museum, or rather his plan for founding a National 
Museum, having failed, Diaghilev set to work to realize a new dream, 
and began to manifest much resentment at such opposition as he met. 
This resentment was clearly expressed in an article devoted to the “Art 
and Historic Exhibition of Russian Portraits’* which appeared in 1902. 
“It was with the keenest interest that we visited the Academy of Sciences, 
but it was with a feeling of profound disappointment that we left the 
rooms in which a noble, a splendid idea has been so pitilessly travestied. 
That idea was the gathering together in one place, for the second time in 
thirty years, ^ of the works of our illustrious dead painters, whose finest 
paintings are now scattered throughout the land, in many cases in the 
possession of those who do not even suspect their value This last ex- 

hibition, organized in aid of charity, is a clumsy ultra-dilettante under- 
taking. Haste appears to have been its watchword, for there is absolutely 
no plan. The lack of space has limited it still further, and as a result the 
exhibition is meager, one-sided, and, worst of all . . . aimless. Which is not 
to say that it does not contain worth-while paintings. Indeed the case is 
far otherwise, for of the 260 wretched canvases crowded together there, 
a good half must be considered of exceptional merit I But what does it 
prove? That a dozen people happened to collect all the paintings in 
their possession, and named the result an exhibition. Yet, is that the way 
so tremendous an undertaking as an exhibition of Russian portrait paint- 
ing should be organized? No doubt, it will be said that the organizers 
never claimed to have anything so grandiose in view. Agreed, but do 
not let us forget that by their wretched attempt they have prevented such 
serious institutions as the Historic Society, the Russian Museum, and 
others from carrying out the idea borrowed by the present organizers, for 
the simple reason that neither the Palaces, nor the private or public col- 
lections, are able to lend their pictures every year. From that angle, the 
Exhibition of Historical Paintings has done infinite harm!* 

Nevertheless, such exasperation as Diaghilev may have felt, in no wise 
changed his plans. With tenfold energy and all the unswerving stub- 
bornness so characteristic of the man, he continued the relentless pursuit 
of that second dream, that second miracle of his. Thus, in the fifth issue 
of The World of Art dated 1904, among the “Chronicles,” we find the 
following note: 

“Under the exalted patronage of His Majesty the Emperor, during 

f An exhibition o£ historic paintings had been organized in X870 by A. A. Vassiltchikov, 
Prince A. B. Lobanov-Rostovsky, Count S. G. Stroganov, D. V. Grigorovitch and P. N. 
Petrov, 



THE LAST YEARS OF "THE WORLD OF ART” II3 

February, 1905, an exhibition o£ historic Russian portraits, from 1705 
to 1905, will be held, in aid of the widows and orphans of those fallen 
in batde. 

“This exhibition will be held in the halls of the Tauride Palace, and 
will comprise portraits hy Russian Masters, as well as those of Russian 
notables by foreign painters. 

“The President of the Organizing Committee will be the 

Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovitch, the members being I. A. Vsevoloj- 
sky, Coimt 1 . I. Tolstoy, Count A. A. Bobrinsky, P. N. Dashkov, 
S. A, Panchulidze, S. P. Diaghilev, A. N. Benois and S. P. Franck. The 
general organizer appointed by the Organizing Committee will be S. P. 
Diaghilev. The exhibition offices are to be found in the palace of the 
Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovitch (Millionmaya 19). The purpose of 
this exhibition is to gather imder one roof, Russian portraits at present 
widely distributed in the Imperial Palaces, in private collections, and 
especially in individual possession, whether in the two capitals, provincial 
towns or country seats. 

“It is earnestly to be hoped that those who have such portraits in their 
possession will notify the organizers, and so contribute to both the his- 
toric and the cultural value of this great undertaking.” 

Officially, Diaghilev was satisfied to remain the “general organizer” 
and so-called “appointee” of the Organizing Committee. Actually, no 
other organizer existed. The “exalted patronage,” the presence of a 
grand duke at the head of a committee which numbered so many in- 
fluential persons, were but so many pretexts to make possible the loan 
of the halls of the Tauride Palace, at one time the residence of Prince 
Potemkin. In addition, these names would gready help him to obtain the 
loan of the paintings he might need. 

It is worth noting that this announcement stresses the “cultural and 
historic value,” though not the artistic worth of this gigantic undertak- 
ing; Diaghilev was far too modest in terming it merely "great.” 

Diaghilev’s activity, and the energy expended by him in connection 
with this exhibition, were almost inconceivable. Nothing affrighted him — 
neither the distances, nor the discomfort of the journeys it necessitated at 
times; neither the bumpy roads nor the peasants’ carts, which bruised 
both back and sides, while he went in search of provincial governors, 
or rural landowners lost in the vast expanse of forests and steppes. Then, 
that caressing baritone, that delightful smile, those sad eyes, would be 
brought into play, and the victim would finally succumb. Who could 
resist that especial charm, whose value he himself was now beginning 
to realize so well? Besides, the times themselves were propitious: sporadic 
unrest seemed to foreshadow the flames that in the following year would 
cast their scarlet glow over Russia, a year in which many masterpieces 
were to perish, including a number of the portraits Diaghilev had prom- 
ised to “safeguard” in the event of disturbances. 



1 14 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

Between journeys, Diaghilev would haunt the Public Record Office, 
the libraries, or bury himself in ancient books and periodicals, searching 
for traces of suitable material. Or again, he would send out circulars, 
or pester the mighty, and, in fact, take an infinity of trouble. Finally, the 
canvases began to pour in, first in hundreds, then in thousands. Where- 
upon other problems arose, such as attributing dates, signatures, the 
names of sitters, etc. And again, every work needed to be classified, and 
the whole given an artistic unity, after which each item needed arranging 
in such a manner as to illustrate the whole range of Russian life, art 
and culture, in the two hundred years from 1705 to 1905. Not for an in- 
stant, however, did Diaghilev’s creative energy, his determination to suc- 
ceed, falter. Finally, the exhibition was opened with all due ceremony. 
But now the question must be asked: "Had it been worth the fearful 
effort expended?” No two opinions are possible, for even had Diaghilev 
been forced to expend fifty, one hundred times, the effort, had he col- 
lapsed with sheer exhaustion the day after, there would have been noth- 
ing for him to regret, and he would still have “been borne living into the 
heavens.” That one miracle of the exhibition held in the Tauride Palace 
would have sufficed to render his name forever illustrious in the annals 
of Russian culture, for it was a great miracle which Diaghilev, the 
magician, had performed. 

The official opening took place in February, 1905, during a period of 
intense social disturbance, when political events alone might have been 
thought to absorb the interest of the public. In the preceding days 
Diaghilev was depressed and uneasy, and A. P. Filosofov was able to 
write: “The boys look very down in the mouth, Seriozha is almost un- 
recognizable.” 

Nevertheless Diaghilev's miracle could not be thrust aside by hurrying 
events, and day after day enthusiastic crowds thronged through the halls 
of the Tauride Palace. Very significant in this connection is Mme. Filo- 
sofov’s letter to Diaghilev’s stepmother. 

“Dear Laelia, 

“You, no doubt, too, must be feeling the same terrible anxiety and 
depression we all feel here. ...It is difficult to write in times of such 
great distress, and that is why you have not heard from me lately. But 
my thoughts are often with you, and I write now, because I have just 
undergone a complete spiritual metamorphosis — alas, temporary, no doubt 
— which has raised me to the skies. I have been to the exhibition in the 
Tauride Palace, and you cannot imagine — ^not the liveliest imagination 
could picture it — ^the superhuman grandeur of what I saw. I was trans- 
ported into a world that seems infinitely nearer than our own.” 

A month later she is writing again: “I keep going to Seriozha’s exhibi- 
tion*. it brings balm to my soul. It’s something amazing!” 

And so indeed, must the majority of visitors have felt, since many of 



THE LAST YEARS OF ‘‘THE WORLD OF ART*’ II 5 

them returned day after day for a month, two months even, such was 
their anxiety to see and absorb all that was shown: a fact only too com- 
prehensible, given the immense variety and richness of the works pre- 
sented. Diaghilev, in his announcement, had emphasized the cultural 
and historical aspects as most likely to interest the general public, and 
no doubt this largely explains the intense popular interest, but since 
many of the works were veritable masterpieces, the effect was, willy- 
nilly, to indoctrinate the beholders with the rudiments of aesthetics. At 
sundry times, I have happened to meet some of the habitual visitors to 
this exhibition, and invariably they have told me that certain halls, such 
as that devoted to the time of Catherine the Great or Paul I (and es- 
pecially the latter, no doubt because of the strange mad look of his face), 
so tangibly, so convincingly revived daeir epochs, that a sort of hallucina- 
tion was experienced, which seemed to transport the bdaolder out of his 
own tim e into the past. After a few hours spent in either of these halls, 
people would go home promising themselves never to return, in order 
to do justice to the rest of the exhibition. Yet, next day, as though drawn 
by a magnet, they would return, unable to tear themselves from the por- 
traits which had moved them so deeply on the preceding day. So rich, 
so varied was the exhibition — for it included about 3,000 portraits — ^that 
many months would have been necessary to make oneself fully ac- 
quainted with everything it contained. 

This exhibition of historic portraits was important, too, in another way 
which Igor Grabar thus defines: “The services rendered by Diaghilev 
in the domain of the history of Russian art are of the utmost im- 
portance. His exhibition of portraits was an event of world-wide signifi- 
cance, for it brought to light a host of Russian and non-Russian painters 
and sculptors, ignored till then, among whom were dozens of really 
first-class artists. This exhibition, initiated by Diaghilev, inaugurated a 
new era in the study of Russian and European art of the eighteenth and 
first half of the nineteenth century. In place of conflicting data and vague 
facts, it became possible, for the first time, using the gigantic quantities 
of material gathered from all over Russia, to establish fresh data, and 
throw new light on interlocking soxirces, relations and influences, un- 
suspected before. One result, was a whole series of drastic, and at times 
unexpected, revaluations of the work of many artists; much that was 
obscure before now became plainer, and new and tempting vistas for 
deeper investigation were thrown open.” 

But now arose the problem of how to hold together what Diaghilev 
had managed to create with such effort I 

Whereupon Diaghilev began to busy himselE with efforts to get the 
Tauride Palace handed over to a special commission, charged with the 
duty of regularly organizing similar exhibitions. In addition, he was 
anxious to arrange for the permanent installation in the same building 
of the portraits discovered by him in the depths of the country — subject. 



11 6 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

of course, to their owners’ consent. Many, if not the great majority, would 
certainly have agreed, following on the events of 1905. Unfortunately, all 
these efforts were doomed to failure, and it was necessary, therefore, to 
return the paintings, with the result that the greater proportion perished 
in the “illuminations” of 1905. When, as occasionally happened, some 
were spared, they suffered a similar fate in 1917, with scarcely a single 
exception. For that reason this exhibition of Diaghilev’s, his miracle, can 
never be resuscitated. Our elders saw it, and that memory they still pre- 
serve; but my own generation (I was born soon after it opened) can 
only envy them, and note the immense significance of the event, from its 
catalogues and contemporary accounts. 

The young Diaghilev, in the years 1890-1895, took little, if any, inter- 
est in politics, and might have been called a skeptical conservative. But 
the destruction of so many of the treasures he held dear was bound to 
make him still more antagonistic to revolution. Thus, it is all the more 
strange to observe him, to some extent, affected by the wave of liberalism 
which, in 1905, swept over the country, understandable though it may be 
in view of the shifting, unsettled state of public opinion. In congratulat- 
ing her daughter on the manifesto of October the 17th of that year, Mme. 
Filosofov writes: “We are rejoicing. Yesterday, even, we had champagne. 
You would never guess who brought the manifesto ... Seriozha, of all 
people. Wonderfull” The dots before “Seriozha,” and the concluding 
“Wonderful 1 ” need no comment. 

Diagbilet/s personal disappointments 

* On his appointment as special assistant to the Director of the Imperial 
Theaters, Diaghilev had begun to dream of regenerating opera and 
ballet in Russia. Now, however, these dreams were to be doomed to 
frustration. 

His plans for founding a vast national museum had come to nothing, 
and The World of Art had ceased to exist. His plan for reserving the 
Tauride Palace as a permanent center for successive exhibitions, and to 
house the portraits he himself had collected, had also proved fruitless, 
and the portraits themselves were being destroyed, as it were, in front 
of his eyes . . . Diaghilev began to feel cramped in Russia . . . new lands, 
new worlds, were calling to be conquered. 

Departure for abroad 

In the spring of 1906 Diaghilev, accompanied by his secretary, Mavrin, 
left for a lengthy tour, visiting in turn Greece, Italy, France and Ger- 
many. But first he decided to organize, in his own old dictatorial man- 
ner, just one more of The World of Art exhibitions as a last farewell to 
the St. Petersburg public. If we are to believe Benois, who assuredly can- 



THE LAST YEARS OF ‘'THE WORLD OF ART” II7 

not be accused o£ exaggerating Diaghilev’s merits, the exhibition proved 
a triumphant success. In Benois’ words: “It was held during that difficult 
winter o£ 1906, when even the energies o£ those managing the ‘Union’ 
had flagged. The demoralization of our successors* inspired Diaghilev 
for the last time to demonstrate all the virtue which lay in dictatorship, 
and to prove that, where he was concerned, the wish was father to the 
deed.” 

Immediately the exhibition ended, Diaghilev left for abroad and the 
conquest of Europe. 

Serge Pavlovitch loved repeating that the blood of Peter the Great 
flowed in his veins, and that he modeled himself upon that illustrious 
Tsar, whose indomitable passion for work he sought to emulate. It 
pleased him greatly to be told he even appeared to resemble him physi- 
cally, And, indeed, they well resembled each other in thir profound and 
all-embracing love for Russia. But whereas Peter the Great, in order to 
bring about his reforms, had found it necessary to transplant the culture 
of Western Europe to our soil, Diaghilev sought to transform the art 
of the world by familiarizing Europe with Russian art. 

Here we begin an entirely new dbapter in Diaghilev’s life and work; 
at first as the apostle of Russian art in Europe, and then as revolutionizer 
of that universal art form, the ballet. 


2 The Exhibitions Committee of The World of Art, 




PART THREE: THE RUSSIAN BALLET 




CHAPTER Vm 


FROM ''THE WORLD OF ART” TO THE 
RUSSIAN BALLET 

The Tarts Exhibition of 1906 

AND NOW Diaghilev made his bow to Western Europe with a first 
“Russian Season,” represented by his exhibition o£ Russian art, held in 
the Paris Salon d’Automne. He had set to work the moment he reached 
„,lhat city. 

This exhibition was intended to provide a comprehensive survey o£ 
two centuries of Russian painting and sculpture, and in addition Diaghilev 
. meant to exhibit the N. P. Lukachev collection of ancient icons. The 
whole exhibition, there£ore, would provide a conspectus o£ Russian repre- 
sentational art throughout its existence. Yet, ambitious as the plan was, 
it was the Russian painters associated with The World of Art whose 
works preponderated. Among them may be mentioned Anis£eld, Leon 
Bakst, A. N. Benois, Borissov-Moussatov, Dobuzhinsky, Igor Grabar, 
Korovin, Kusnetzov, Larionov, Maliavin, Millioti, Roehrich, Somov, 
Serov, Sudbinin, Sudeikine, Steletzky, Tarkhov, Prince Trubetzkoy, 
Vrubel and Yakunchikova, while their predecessors were represented 
principally by Borovikovsky, Brullow, Chubin, Kiprensky, Levitzky and 
Venetzianov. 

Presiding over the organizing committee, and patron o£ the exhibi- 
tion, was the Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovitch; but in addition 
three honorary presidents were appointed, namely, the Russian Ambas- 
sador, M. Nelidov, the Comtesse de Grefiulhe, and M. Dujardin-Beau- 
metz. The name o£ the general organizer, S. de Diaghilev, only occurs at 
the £oot o£ the long list o£ members o£ the committee, headed by Count 
I. Tolstoy. 

As ever, Diaghilev spared no pains to make his exhibition compre- 
hensible to the general public, and to that end issued an elaborate cata- 
logue, copiously illustrated, which included an introductory article by 
A. Benois on Russian art, and a short £oreword by himsel£, in which it 
was stated that: 

“The aim o£ this exhibition is not the provision o£ a complete and 
scrupulously methodical conspectus o£ Russian art through all the stages 
o£ its evolution. Adequately to accomplish such a task would offer in- 
superable difficulties, and be o£ questionable value. Many names, once 
famous, are today shorn of their glory; some for the moment, but others 


X2I 



I2Z 


SERGE DIAGHILEV 

for ever. Many an artist, to whom their contemporaries once attached 
an exaggerated importance, nowadays seem wholly without value, their 
influence on modern painting having been nil. That is why the work of 
certain painters has been deliberately omitted; painters who, in the West, 
have too long been considered solely representative of artistic Russia, 
who too long have offered only a distorted vision of the true nature and 
real importance of Russian national art to the eyes of Europe. This 
present exhibition is a glimpse of the development of our art as seen 
through modern eyes. Every aspect which has exerted a first-hand in- 
fluence on the contemporary spirit of our country, will be found repre- 
sented. It is a faithful image of artistic Russia today, in its strenuous 
seeking, its respectful admiration for the past, and its ardent faith in 
the future.” 

So remarkably successful did this exhibition prove that Diaghilev im- 
mediately began to think of arranging further exhibitions to familiarize 
the Paris public with yet other aspects of Russian art. 

Russian painting had proved eminently successful. The exhibitors were 
delighted. Their work had been understood and highly appreciated, and 
as a result many were invited to send to the Salon d*Automne. Diaghilev 
himself had been offered the Ugion d'Honneur, which he refused in 
favor of Bakst. Thus, all things seemed to indicate that another branch 
of Russian art, so far unknown to Paris, namely music, might enjoy an 
equal success. Whereupon, Diaghilev organized a “trial” concert, held in 
the Palais des Champs Elysees. Many musicians and artists were invited, 
and its enthusiastic reception paved the way for the season of 1907. 

Acquaintance with the Comtesse de Greffulhe 

Meanwhile Diaghilev had made many valuable connections, and ac- 
quired numerous influential friends in French society. He had also man- 
aged to secure the patronage of the Comtesse de Greffulhe for all his 
future seasons, support which was to prove of inestimable value. Mme. 
Guy de Pourtales was responsible for this introduction, on which occa- 
sion Diaghilev immediately asked whether he might not call in connec- 
tion with a certain “scheme.” 

Only recently the Comtesse de Greffulhe gave me some interesting 
details of this visit, as, sitting in her immense drawing room, surrounded 
by many masterpieces of painting and sculpture, she talked of Serge 
Pavlovitch with an all but devotional reverence. . , . 

“Yes, it was there in that armchair that he sat This is a statue he 

often admired, . , . There is the piano on which he played. . . .” 

I asked the Countess what impression Diaghilev had made on her, 
and whether, indeed, he was as handsome as was said. Her only reply, 
however, was that Diaghilev had made practically no impression on her 



FROM ‘*THE WORLD OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET 1 23 

at all, and that at first she had taken him to be a sort of young snob or 
shady adventurer, with a remarkable conversational gift. 

“At first I kept on wondering what on earth he wanted? There he sat, 
staring at that statue. Then suddenly he got up, and began looking at my 
pictures, and, I must say, some of the things he said were extraordinarily 
interesting. I soon realized that he was remarkably well informed, and 
that I was dealing with a man of very great culture ... that made me 
begin to like him. But when he went to the piano, and began playing 
things by Russian composers whom I had never even heard of, I began 
to understand him, and why he had come. His playing was excellent, 
and the music was so fresh, so altogether wonderful and lovely, that 
when he explained he intended organizing a festival of Russian music 
in the coming year I immediately, without the slightest doubts or mis- 
givings, promised to do everything in my power to help make it suc- 
cessful.” 

Following this visit, therefore, Hiaghilev might rest assured that his 
1907 season would take place. Thereafter, until the outbreak of the 
Great War, year after year, Paris had its Russian, its Diaghilev, season. 

In all justice, it must be said that Diaghilev had perfectly chosen the 
place and moment. Paris, at that time, was indisputably the world’s 
spiritual capital, and the tardy springtide of tlie Franco-Russian entente 
was inspiring the intensest interest and enthusiasm for everything con- 
nected with our country. In addition, both Governments spared no effort 
to foster a closer relationship between the two States, and what language 
is more communicable, more comprehensible, than that of the arts? 

Thus, Diaghilev’s efforts admirably suited the plans of the Imperial 
Government, which explains the lavish subsidies granted by the Court, 
the support of the Russian Embassy, and his ability to borrow the best 
artists, no matter whom, even when he himself had quarreled with the 
Court, and had dispensed with His Imperial Majesty’s exalted patron- 
age, , . . Had Diaghilev not fulfilled this mission it is exceedingly pos- 
sible that it would have been delegated to another: but what a stroke of 
luck for Russian art that it was he, and not some artist-bureaucrat who 
would have striven to thrust pseudo-nationalistic “Berendeis and Stenka 
Razins” on Paris! 

’Exhibitions in Berlin and Venice 

It must not be assumed, however, that because Diaghilev had made 
Paris his center, he was content to confine his activities to that city alone, 
or even to France, for already he was dreaming of world-wide con- 
quests. That same year the whole Salon d’Automne exhibition was trans- 
ported to Berlin, and the following year, though reduced in compass, to 
Venice. 



124 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

The Berlin exhibition was held at the Salon Schulte, where it proved 
very successful, though far less so than in Paris. Igor Grabar tells us: 
“The Kaiser expressed a wish to visit the exhibition with his family, the 
day before the opening ceremony, and it was mainly myself who, be- 
cause of my good German, was entrusted with the task of taking him 
round. Diaghilev’s knowledge of the language was poor, and he therefore 
conversed in French with the Kaiser. As for the latter, his behavior was 
both objectionable and stupid, for he struck one attitude after another, 
and the platitudes he uttered were in the worst possible taste. Stopping in 
front of a portrait by Levitzky, he said: 

“ ‘What nobility in the pose and gesture.’ 

“ ‘But men then were noble, Your Majesty,’ ventured Diaghilev. 

“ ‘And some still are,’ the Kaiser interjected, obviously displeased, and 
no doubt referring to himself. 

“This brush did not, however, affect his friendliness towards Diaghilev, 
editor of that The World of Art in which, as Prince he had at times been 
so cruelly treated. He even stopped for a considerable space in front of 
Bakst’s portrait of Diaghilev, and questioned him at length about his old 
nurse Dunia. . . 


Success of Kussian Mttsic in Paris 

Triumphantly returning to St. Petersburg, Diaghilev set about prepar- 
ing for his second season in Paris, the famous concerts of “Russian 
Music Through the Ages.” A committee was formed, presided over by 
A. S. Taney ev, Chamberlain to the Imperial Court and himself a dis- 
tinguished composer, consisting of Diaghilev, A. Khitrov, de Reinecke, 
A. von Gilse von der Pals, R. Gailhard, Messager, Broussan, Chevillard, 
A. Nikisch, F. Blumenfeldt, N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov, A. Glazunov, and 
S. V, Rachmaninov. As honorary presidents there were elected the Rus- 
sian Ambassador in Paris, M. Nelidov, his by then devoted patron the 
Comtesse de Greff ulhe, and Aristide Briand, at that time French Min- 
ister of Education and Fine Arts. Exactly as before, on the occasion of 
the Portrait Exhibition in the Tauride Palace, Diaghilev’s name was 
dissimulated among those of the numerous members of the committee, 
for what mattered to him was not the advertisement, but the achieve- 
ment. In the same way the posters for the ballet season of 1909 an- 
nounced, '*Sai$on Russe avec le concours des artistes, Vorchestre et les 
choeurs des ThSdtres de Saint-Petersbourg et Moscou," without so much 
as even mentioning Diaghilev’s name. 

' For these concerts the most celebrated figures in music were enlisted, 
the conductors being Arthur Nikisch, with his unique understanding of 
Tchaikovsky’s music, Rimsky-Korsakov, Felix Blumenfeldt, Rachmani- 
nov, C. Chevillard and Glazunov. The solo pianist was Josef Hofmann 
and the singers numbered among them the Felia Litvin, Feodor 







FROM '*THE WORLD OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET 1^5 

Chaliapin (his reputation dates from, this epoch), Cherkasskaya, Zbrueva, 
Petrenko, Smirnov, Kastorsky, Matveyev, Filipov, etc. The programs 
were carefully chosen and included many of the masterpieces of Rus- 
sian music, such as Glinka’s overture to, and first act of, Russian and 
L.udinilat and his Kamarins\aya; Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic poem 
Christmas Eve, the introduction to the first act and Liel’s two songs from 
Snegouroch\af the third scene from the opera-ballet Mlada, The 'Night 
on Triglav Mountain, the symphonic suite from Tsar Saltan and the sub- 
marine-kingdom scene from Sad\o; Tchaikovsky’s second and fourth 
symphonies, as also the arioso from The Witch (Charodeika) ; many 
excerpts from Borodin’s Prince Igor; Mussorgsky’s TrepaJ^, Song of the 
Flea and the second act of Boris Godunov, together with other excerpts 
from the same opera and Khovantchina; Taneyev’s Second Symphony; 
Liadov’s Fight Fol\ Songs, and Baba Yaga; Scriabin’s Piano Concerto 
and Second Symphony; Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto and the 
Cantata Spring; Balakirev’s Thamar; Glazunov’s Second Symphony, and 
a small “Symphonic Impression”; Liapunov’s Concerto for Piano and 
Orchestra, and Cesar Cui’s “Romantic Piece” from the opera William 
Ratcliff. 

Obviously, it was hardly possible to present the whole of Russian 
music from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the 
twentieth century in five concerts, nevertheless such works as were per- 
formed proved a veritable and far-reaching revelation to the Parisian 
public. 

In this case, too, the printed program provided an elaborate text de- 
signed to familiarize the listener with the main outlines of Russian 
music. Biographical and analytical notes dealt with Glinka, the father 
of Russian music, Borodin, Cui, Balakirev, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, 
Rimsky-Korsakov, A. E- Taneyev (though his nephew, undeniably more 
gifted, was not included), Liadov, Liapunov, Glazunov, Scriabin and 
Rachmaninov. It also included reproductions of portraits of these mu- 
sicians as painted by R^pin, Bakst, Kusnetzov, Serov and Zak, analytical 
notes on the various items, illustrations of the singers in their costume- 
parts (in particular many of Chaliapin), and reproductions illustrating 
a number of sets from Russian operas, etc., etc. 

Now, thirty years after, when hardly a concert takes place at which one 
or other of these items is not presented, it is diflScult to imagine the 
tremendous impression they then created. If they interest us now, how- 
ever, that interest is largely a historical one, which revolves round the 
particular items chosen and their interpreters, such as Nikisch, Hof- 
mann, Chaliapin, Litvin, Zbrueva, and Cherkasskaya. And yet, it is just 
this fact which makes Diaghilev so important, for what today seems so 
ordinary and accepted was a new world when first revealed to Europe. 

Of all these composers it was Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin, and Mus- 



126 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

sorgsky who made the deepest impression on the Parisian public^ little 
attention being paid to the work o£ either Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov, 
although the latter was already beginning to find enthusiasts in Russia. 

^^Boris Goduno^/^ with Chaliapin 

The most powerful influence was that excited by Mussorgsky, for it 
profoundly modified the life and soul of all modern French music. Not 
only did it influence so pronouncedly individual a composer as Ravel, 
but even so mature and original a master of his art as Debussy was to 
be immensely indebted to him. True, the younger generation of French 
composers learned many a valuable lesson from Rimsky-Korsakov’s mira- 
cles of orchestration, but their real god was Mussorgsky. Even now, 
thirty years later, that influence still persists. Wagner alone is his com- 
peer, though it is diflEicult to say which proved the greater creative in- 
fluence. 

In any case, the greatest successes were those borne off by Mussorgsky 
and Chaliapin, and we may assume, therefore, that this was what deter- 
mined Diaghilev to produce Boris Godunov in Paris the following year. 
The preparatory work proved long and arduous, for Diaghilev was deter- 
mined to stage a veritable reconstitution of late sixteenth-century Russia, 
and to that end ransacked the length and breadth of peasant Russia in 
search of ancient costumes, genuine old sarafans and seed-pearl em- 
broideries, all of which, including the sets, were afterwards presented 
to the Op^ra National. 

Serge Pavlovitch often talked to me about this first opera season of 
his in 1908. The dress rehearsal, it seemed, went off brilliantly, the first 
performance was to take place next day, and Diaghilev was at peace, sure 
of success. But diat very evening, Chaliapin, huge, enormous, and labor- 
ing under some deep emotion, came seeking him at his hotel. 

“I shan’t be able to sing tomorrow ... I’m in a funk ... I’m terrified . . . 
it doesn’t sound. . . .” 

And in fact the clipped phrases (for he often spoke in this way) were 
hardly audible. Utterly helpless, he sank into a chair, shaking with fever, 
the fever of the creator awaiting the inspired moment, which he senses 
will descend on him next day, 

Diaghilev did all in his power to reassure, to calm, to distract and 
drive away his fears, but in vain. In body and soul, in every fiber, Cha- 
liapin had collapsed. They spent the whole evening together, till finally 
Chaliapin began to feel somewhat more sure of himself. But, as they were 
parting, his fears overwhelmed him again; he was terrified of being alone, 
and felt he could not possibly manage without Diaghilev to sustain him. 

“I’ll stay with you. Serge; I’ll sleep no matter where, on one of the 
chairs,” he said, and so spent a very uncomfortable and feverish night on 
a sofa half his size, in the drawing room of Diaghilev’s suite. 



FROM "the world OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET 1 27 

The next night, the miracle of Boris Godunov was revealed to Paris, 
and through Paris, to the whole world. Before, the work had only been 
known in Russia, but not even Russia had ever heard or seen a Boris, as 
Chaliapin sang and acted the part that night. 

The effect it produced on Paris was indescribable. The usual cold and 
fashionable audience of the Opera was utterly transformed. People stood 
on their seats, yelled as if possessed, waved handkerchiefs, and wept in 
an unrestrained and Asiatic manner very different from European tears. 
Europe had taken Mussorgsky and his Boris Godunov to its heart. From 
that moment it was to become part of every operatic repertoire in Amer- 
ica and Europe. 

Chaliapin’s personal success too was tremendous. As a result, singers 
all over the world, whether opera singers or not, whether in Boris Godu- 
nov or some other opera, began to copy his every mannerism, to apply 
every lesson he had taught. After that memorable night, singing and 
acting became something altogether different from what they had been. 
The sets, designed by Golovin and Juon were also immensely appreciated, 
and particularly that for the fourth scene designed by Alexandre Benois. 

Friendship with Madame Serf 

Another memorable event, indeed one of the most important in his 
life, was associated with this production in Paris, for through it he made 
the acquaintance of Mme. Misia Sert (Mme. Edwards, as she was then) 
of whom he said, shortly before his death, that she was his greatest, his 
best friend. That friendship, which weathered twenty stormy years, arose 
out of this very production, when Misia, in her enthusiasm, would book 
a whole tier of boxes, and never miss a single performance. 

Mme. Sert and the Princess de Polignac, whom he met at the same 
time, may be said, to some extent, to have been Diaghilev’s muses: for, 
during the whole period of the Russian Ballet, they were the inspira- 
tion of practically all his creative activity. Most of the ballets were, in fact, 
dedicated to the Princess, and the preliminary rehearsals generally took 
place at her house: but ideas for new ballets were first discussed, and 
then decided on in concert with Misia Sert. Diaghilev knew he could 
always count on the latter for material and moral su|Iport, for she was 
genuinely devoted to him. And it was this devotion, thanks to her posi- 
tion in Parisian society, which was so instrumental in assuring Diaghilev’s 
success.^ 

The Princess de Polignac greatly admired Diaghilev’s artistic achieve- 
ment. Mme. Sert, too, admired the Russian Ballet, but she also admired 
Serge Pavlovitch, and to such an extent, that it was a standing joke in 

^She had been associated with music and musicians all her life. As a child she had 
known Liszt. At this period she was the wife of the editor of Le Matin. Her second 
husband was the Spanish painter Sert. 



128 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

the ballet that some day our “woman-hater” would end by marrying 
her. 

Whenever Diaghilev arrived in Paris, almost the first thing he did 
would be to telephone Mme. Sert, then settle down for a long comfortable 
chat, and afterwards go off to visit her at her house. True, their con- 
versations often ended in mutual recriminations and quarrels. She would 
accuse him of turning to her only when in trouble, of neglecting her the 
rest of the time; and he, suspicious, doubting, and jealously possessive 
in a way that refused to brook what he imagined even the slightest 
infidelity, even in thought, would resent what he considered her indif- 
ference to both his work and himself. Thus, these two strong natures 
seemed in permanent conflict, each imagining the other indijBEerent or 
lackadaisical; and yet, strange though it seems, Diaghilev almost always 
would prove the weaker, for though more jealous, he was also both more 
conciliatory and more passive. On one occasion, deeply offended be- 
cause Diaghilev had asked her help on a matter of passports, Mme. Sert 
wrote that it was not him she loved, but his work; whereupon, in a 
letter dated January ist, 1919, he replied: 

“You say it isn't me that you love, but my work. Well, I can say the 
opposite to that, that I love you with all your faults, and the feelings I 
should have had for my sister, if I had ever had one. Unfortunately, I 
never had, so all these feelings crystallize round you. Please remember 
that not so very long ago tve came to the conclusion, in all seriousness, 
that you were the one woman on earth that we loved. That is why it 
is so unworthy of a sister to make such a to-do about not having had any 
letters for some time. When I write — ^and you know how seldom that is 
— ^it is when I have something to say: not of my London ‘successes,’ which 
you no doubt have heard of already, but of my hopes, schemes and proj- 
ects. ...” 

Whenever Mme. Sert missed a show or supper party at which she was 
expected, pleading sudden business, Diaghilev would experience these 
jealous furies. As he saw it, it was but an excuse masking a total in- 
difference to him and his work. 

“Nothing could be more absurd,” he writes to her on April 23rd, 1917, 
“but fate, it seems, wills it that you should turn up always and every- 
where, just as I am on the point of departing; or that you should be 
‘called away’ the very moment I arrive, or when I specially want to stay 
for a jew hours, I say want, but perhaps it would be better to say wanted^ 
because, honestly, these last weeks you’ve shown yourself so cold arid 
indifferent to all that matters to me, all that lies near my heart, that it’s 
better to be quite frank about it. I know very well that friendships don’t 
last for centuries, but one thing I do beg of you, and that is never to tell 
me again that you’ve been ‘urgently called away,’ because / hnow it 
edready. I can predict these urgent ‘calls’ with the utmost certainty, 
though I only consider them ‘calls’ in the sense that they ‘call* for the 



raOM "the world of ART^* to the RUSSIAN BALLET IZ^ 

laughter of my friends to whom I prophesy them beforehand. I quite 
understand that Jose ® may be called away on business, but that you, you, 
should treat me thus, seans both unkind and unmerited. Yes, the truth at 
times seems to me best.” 

Diaghilev often left Paris at enmity with Mme. Sert, but on his return, 
he would immediately telephone^ start chatting, then go to her house, 
and the old dispute would not even be mentioned 

Preparations for the Paris season of 1909 

Immediately on returning to St. Petersburg, Diaghilev threw himselE 
into preparing for the forthcoming season in Paris. A great deal was at 
stake, for Diaghilev was not only exporting the Russian Opera, but for 
the very first time, the Russian Ballet. 

How did the Ballet come to be included } Let us give the answer in his 
own words, from a letter written in 1928. 

“From opera to ballet is but a step. At that time there were more 
than 400 ballet dancers on the roster of the Imperial Theaters. They had 
all had a remarkably good training, and they danced the traditional 
classical ballets. ... All these ballets I was very familiar with, having 
been attached to the Director of the Imperial Theaters for two years or so, 

“I could not help observing, however, that among the younger mem- 
bers of the St. Petersburg ballet, a sort of reaction to the classical tradi- 
tion, which Petipa so jealously preserved, was beginning to make itself 
felt. 

“From that moment, I began wondering whether it would not be 
possible to create a number of short new ballets, which besides being of 
artistic value would link the three main factors, music, decorative de- 
sign, and choreography far more closely than ever before. 

“The more I thought about it, the clearer it seemed that a real ballet 
could only be created by the perfect combination of all these factors. 

“That is why when I am producing a ballet, I never for a moment lose 
sight of one of these factors.” ® 

These words, to which not nearly enough attention has been paid, go 
a long way towards explaining why Diaghilev devoted practically all the 
remainder of his life to the Ballet. To him, it was the perfect synthesis 
bf decorative design and painting, music, and the dance. 

But to return to St. Petersburg, where Diaghilev was already hard at 
work on his season for 1909 1 

Nothing could have seemed more promising. The Imperial Court had 
taken him under its exalted wing, a heavy subsidy had been granted, and 

2 Mme. Sett’s husband. (Ed.) 

® The rest o£ the letter is worthy of quotation for the light it throws on Diaghilev as a 
director. “Thus, I often visit the scene-painting studios, the sewing-room, attend orchestral 
rehearsals, and every day visit the producdon studio to watch my artists at work, from 
the stars to the boys in the corps de bcdlet, completing their training.” 



130 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

last but not least, the Hermitage Theater had been lent for rehearsals. 
Meanwhile, an unoflScial committee, a sort of artistic nucleus, met daily 
at Diaghilev’s house. In addition to Alexandre Benois, the artistic man- 
ager in Paris during the 1908 season, it consisted of Leon Bakst, Prince 
V. N. Argutinsky-Dolgoruky,* N. N. Tcherepnine, composer of the 
Pavilion d'Armide and ballet conductor to the Mariinsky Theater, the 
ballet critic, V. Svedov, who had become an enthusiastic admirer of 
Diaghilev and his achievements, and finally, the well-known balletomane, 
General Bezobrazov. At these meetings the program for the following 
season would be worked out, the lists of dancers to be engaged in St. 
Petersburg or Moscow be gone through, and an active correspondence 
maintained with Paris. An interesting account of the unofiicial commit- 
tee is fortunately provided by V. Svedov. 

After exposing the old ballet V ampulla ® to the most devastating 
criticism, on account of the complete absence of any co-ordination be- 
tween the efforts of musician, designer, costumier, librettist and chore- 
author (i.e., choreographer), Svedov continues: 

"How different things are in the new Diaghilev ballets. Composers, 
painters, ballet masters, authors and those interested in the arts come 
together and plan the work to be done. Subjects are proposed, discussed, 
and then worked out in detail. Each makes his suggestions, which are 
accepted or rejected by a general consensus of opinion, and thus in the 
end it is difficult to say which individual was responsible for the libretto, 
and what was due to the common effort. The real author was, of course, 
he who first proposed the idea, but the amendments, the working-out, the 
details, made it the work of all. So too with the music, the dances; all is 
the result of this collective effort, A painter, too, who feels a particular 
subject congenial, will be entrusted with all the artistic details. Not only 
will he be made responsible for providing the designs for both sets and 
costumes, he will also be expected to design all the properties and oth<y. 
accessories: in a word, to be responsible for the whole scenic presentsi^ 
tion of the new ballet down to its smallest details. ? 

“Thus, both artistic unity of design and execution are achieved. Ar- 
tists, who all their lives deal with epochs, styles, plastic forms, color and 
line, i.e., elements with which no ballet master can hope to be equally 
familiar, must in the very nature of things, be their closest and co-equal 
collaborators in the process of creating^ a ballet. Then, in full awareness of 

* Prince V. N. Argutinsky-Dolgoruky, Secretary to the Russian Embassy in Paris, and 
Diaghilcv’s friend. In 1909 he more than once helped him out of financial difficulties. 
In particular, when Diaghilev had lost his subsidy, it was the Prince who guaranteed ms 
bank account for a considerable sum, and thus made it possible for him to leave for 

abroad. (Ed.) , , . , j j 

•* The title of an extremely successful satirical pastiche on Italian opera, produced 
shortly before by a troupe of St. Petersburg actors calling themselves “The Crooked 
Mirror.” This company was the precursor and parent of Balaieff’s ChatwesSouns, The 
tunes and text were on everyone’s lips, and the word is still used to denote a ridiculous 
operatic production, (Ed.) 



FROM “the world OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BAIXET I3I 

the scenic eJBEect of decor and groupings, the ballet master works out his 
choreography accordingly. . . 

Diaghilev himself undertook the task of inviting such dancers as he 
wished to collaborate with him. Everywhere he met with delighted ac- 
ceptances : not a single person refused. Of those in St. Petersburg, he en- 
listed first and foremost the dancers forming the “yo^g^ revolutionary 
group,” kneaded together by M. M. Fokine, himself a splendid dancer, 
and just beginning his ballet master’s career, Anna Pavlova, Tamara 
Karsavina, the briUiant Kshesinskaya, Bolm, Monakhov, and a certain 
young dancer who but the previous year was still completing his studies 
in the school of the Imperial Theaters, though now hailed as the world’s 
eighth wonder, that genius of dancing, Nijinsky. Among the artists en- 
gaged in Moscow may be cited, in addition to Chaliapin, the prima 
ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater, Coralli, and the dancer Mordkin. 

Such distinguished ballerinas and dancers as Baldina, A. and V. Feo- 
dorov, Smirnova, Dobroliubiva, Kozlov, Bulgakov, and Petrov were also 
included, as were also the best dancers in the corps de ballet. 

In addition, Diaghilev was able to secure the services of some of the 
best-known singers, and with Chaliapin there went to Paris Lipkovska, 
Petrenko, Smirnov, Kastorsky, Sharonov, Zaporozhetz, Damaev and 
Davidov. 

Tamara Karsavina, the most faithful of the great dancers who worked 
with Diaghilev, gives us a description of his first visit to her. 

“Little did I think what changes it would bring into my life when, 
one afternoon I sat waiting for Diaghilev in my small sitting room. I 
was married by now, and had my own home. ‘The red plush of that 
suite — ^like a provincial hotel,’ I thought, looking at my furniture. A 
piece of Dresden china, my first acquisition in the bibelot fine, seemed 
alone capable of bearing witness to my taste. I moved it from the etagere 
to the piano; it looked better where it was before, though not so con- 
spicuous. I moved it back again. Six o’clock; he should have come at five. 
My agitation grew. It was not on account of an ofier to be discussed; 
there was an emotion of a different kind making me conscious of the red 
plush, and apprehensive of what Diaghilev, the aesthetic, might think of 

me He was now coming to seal his offer by a ceremonial visit. I was 

not then aware of his xmpunctuality, amazing even from a Russian point 
of view. I had almost given him up, when I saw his coupe stop at my 
door. Diaghilev never would drive in an open cab for fear of being in- 
fected with glanders. . . . From the windows I could see the river Jdanovka 
and the always empty Petrovsky Park, a bit of sylvan scenery in town. 
Duniasha made me blush by her grotesque mispronunciation of my 
visitor’s name when showing him in. ‘A meeting for discussing various 
artistic questions had kept him so late,’ Diaghilev explained. I had a 
first glimpse of the feverish activities that he had called to life. Maquettes 
for scenery and costumes were painted, productions elaborated by con- 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


132 

claves of artists and musicians. Diaghilev himself was then just back 
from Moscow, where he had engaged all the best and prettiest dancers 
as well as Chaliapin himself. . . . ‘The high patronage of the Grand Duke 
Vladimir, and a subsidy is given to us,* he told me with satisfaction. 
‘By the way, I will send you your contract signed tonight; or is it Mon- 
day today — ^unlucky day, I will do it tomorrow,’ he said at parting. 

“The setting sun had in places illuminated the red plush to the bright- 
ness of pomegranate. I wore a copy of a Paris model. My talk had been 
easy, mondaine I thought it. My real nervousness in the presence of a 
personality that fascinated and intimidated me did not show. 

“Diaghilev had been lent the Hermitage Theater, and there it was we 
began to rehearse. During the rests, court lackeys would hand round 
chocolate and tea. Suddenly the rehearsals came to an end!”® 

Difficulties with the Court and with Kshesinskaya 

What had happened? Why were the rehearsals so suddenly canceled? 
Because, on the one hand, Diaghilev’s great patron, the Grand Duke 
Vladimir Alexandrovitch, had died, and on the other, Diaghilev had 
managed to oilend Kshesinskaya, to whom, more than anyone, he was 
indebted for his subsidy. Serge Pavlovitch wished to revive Giselle with 
Anna Pavlova in the part, and had offered Kshesinskaya only the rather 
insignificant Le Pavilion d'Armide, Whereupon a stormy interview took 
place, in which not only arguments, but missiles too were exchanged, 
Diaghilev’s subsidy was withdrawn, and with it the support of his ex- 
alted patron. This irked him but little, however, for he knew there were 
sound friends in Paris on whom he could count. A far greater blow was 
the news that he could no longer use the Hermitage Theater for re- 
hearsals, nor the sets and costumes of the Mariinsky Theater, 

Plots and counterplots were set into motion, and some idea of them 
may be gained from the following letter. It is addressed by one of the 
Grand Dukes to the Tsar: 

“Dear Nicky, 

“As was to be expected, your telegram wrought havoc in the whole 
Diaghilev business, and now in his attempt to save his beastly affair, 
he is resorting to every subterfuge, from the vilest flatteries to absolute 
falsehoods. According to information given me, Boris, who will be in 
attendance on you tomorrow, has been got at on behalf of Diaghilev, 
and sympathizes with his grievances. He therefore means to request 
you not to restore your patronage, for that the latter no longer desires, 
but to allow him to continue to use the Hermitage for rehearsals, and to 
borrow the d^cor and costumes used in the Mariinsky Theater for the 
season in Paris. We very much hope that you will not take the bait, 

® Karsavina, Theatre Street, pp. 330, 333-3. 



FROM "the 'WORLD OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET I33 

which, let me warn you, will be cast very cleverly, nor grant permission 
for either the use of the Hermitage or the settings. It would only be 
conniving at a most unsavory business which sullies the memory of 
dear Father. 

“i8th March, 1909.” 

This feud between Kshesinskaya and Diaghilev continued until 1911, 
when a reconciliation took place in Bezobrazovas house. Meanwhile 
d’Andr 4 Pavlova’s husband, had made an effort to bring them together, 
spurred on by the need of Kshesinskaya’s help in the matter of a law- 
suit, In return, he offered to arrange matters with Diaghilev, an offer, 
however, which the famous ballerina rejected. Later, peace was estab- 
lished, and Kshesinskaya made her debut for Diaghilev in London in 
1911, with Nijinsky, the cudevant dancer of the Imperial Ballet, as her 
partner. Her success in l^e Ijoc des Cygnes during the 1912 Covent Gar- 
den season, was tremendous, and special encores of her variations were 
demanded. Such, however, was Nijinsky’s jealousy, that he began to tear 
off his costume, and refused to continue dancing. Only with the greatest 
dif&culty was Diaghilev able to persuade him to continue. 

Thereafter, and until his death, Diaghilev’s relations with her — she 
was to become Princess Krasinska — and her husband, the Grand Duke 
Andrei Vladimirovitch, were of the utmost friendliness. It always de- 
lighted Serge Pavlovitch to enjoy their great hospitality, and they them- 
selves followed the fortunes of the ballet with the most sympathetic 
interest. I well remember how much Serge Pavlovitch desired I should 
dance with Kshesinskaya, and his keen disappointment when nothing 
came of the idea. 

But to turn from the “havoc” wrought in “the whole Diaghilev busi- 
ness” to Karsavina’s reminiscences of the man. 

“All of a sudden there was a break iA our rehearsals. After a few 
days of anxious apprehension and persistent rumors predicting ruin for 
the enterprise, we resumed our work, this time in the small theater 
of ‘The Crooked Mirror’ by the Ekaterinsky Canal. In the interval the 
rigisseur of our troupe announced that Serge Pavlovitch asked the artists 
to pass into the foyer to partake of refreshments. During this collation 
Diaghilev made a brief speech. Though the high patronage had been 
withdrawn, the destiny of the enterprise would not suflEer. He trusted 
to the good sense and loyalty of the troupe to carry on their work un- 
affected by malevolent rumors.” ^ 

None but a man of Diaghilev’s undaunted courage could have with- 
stood so terrible a blow. Naturally enough, the rumor began to run 
that the whole scheme was doomed,i that aU thought of a Paris season 
must be abandoned. And indeed, that would have been so, had anyone 
but Diaghilev been in control. Nothing, however, could prevail against 


7 Karsavina. Theatre Street^ p. 334. 



134 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

his determination, and his feverish preparations in no wise slackened. 
Neverthless, it was to Misia that he owed his salvation, for she, with 
other Paris friends, opened a subscription list which proved so successful, 
that soon a sum sufficient to rent the Ch^telet Theater was collected. At 
the same time, the Comtesse de Greifulhe appointed M. Astruc, then 
but a little-known theatrical promoter, to be sole business manager to 
the whole undertaking. Work was resumed with redoubled energy, 
and the repertoire was duly established. It consisted of the following 
items : Tcherepnine’s Pavilion d^Armide; Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances 
from Prince Igor; Le Festin on music from Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikov- 
sky, Mussorgsky, Glinka and Glazunov; Arensky’s CUopdtra known in 
the Mariinsky Theater production line Nuit d'Egypte; Les Sylphides 
after Chopin; Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov; Rimsky-Korsakov’s PsI^pvi- 
tian\a (but renamed Ivan the Terrible'), and separate acts from Glinka’s 
jRusslan and Ludmila and Serov’s Judith, 

For Le Pavilion d'Armide and Les Sylphides, the costumes and decor 
were entrusted to A. Benois, and for Polovtsian Dances to N. Roehrich. 
For Le Festin, it was decided to use the decor of the second act in Russian 
and Ludmila by Korovin, and for Ps\ovitian\a designs by Golovin 
while for Boris Godunov, Golovin and Jouon were the artists. The 
heaviest share of die work, however, undoubtedly fell on Fokine, for he 
was responsible for producing five of the ballets: Le Pavilion d’Armide, 
Polovtsian Dances, Les Sylphides, CUopdtra and Le Festin, This last, 
however, was hardly a ballet, but rather a pretext for exhibiting a se- 
quence of Russian dances in Petipa’s arrangement. 

’ The mainstay of the company were the four dancers, Anna Pavlova, 
Karsavina, Fokine and Nijinsky. All played important parts in Diaghilev’s 
life, and contributed greatly to his creative activity. Thus, we shall need 
to refer to them each in detail. But of these four “whales” in the 
Diaghilev ballet, one only, Karsavina, remained faithful to the end. The 
others, sooner or later, abandoned the company, and thus “betrayed” 
him who was both its inspirer and creator. 

Tamara Karsavina and her Reminiscences 

It was at the very first performance of Diaghilev’s first season in Paris 
on May 17th, 1909, that Karsavina made her d6but in his ballet. In 1920 
and 1926 she was still dancing for him. In 1929, shortly before his 
death, Diaghilev was counting on her for his 1930 season, but it was 
a season he did not live to see. 

In 1931 Karsavina published her memoirs, and very interesting they 
are. Many of her references to Diaghilev and the Ballet might well have 
been echoed by the other members of the company. Especially interest- 
ing are her reminiscences of the period of Diaghilev’s first interest in 
the ballet, of his “call,” at a time when he was more vitally, more in- 



FROM "the world OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET I35 

timately preoccupied with dancing than ever again^ for it was an 
enthusiasm which was to go on diminishing, and prove eventually, as 
I have said, but an unusually protracted episode in that intensely active 
life of his. Let me quote a few passages: 

“A young man then, he already had that grasp of the absolute, an 
unmistakable attribute of genius. He distinguished between transient 
and eternal truth in art. When I knew him, he was unerring in 
his judgment: artists believed implicidy in his opinion. It pleased 
him to divine a seed of genius where a lesser intuition would see 
eccentricity only. *Mark him well,* Diaghilev pointed to Stravinsky. 
‘He is a man on the eve of celebrity.* This remark was made on the stage 
of the Paris Op&ra while we were rehearsing UOiseau de Feu. In the 
winter preceding our second season abroad, we spoke of Stravinsky as 
Serge Pavlovitch*s new discovery. Ida Rubinstein was numbered among 
his early ones. Diaghilev unhesitatingly defined the promise of her re- 
markable countenance. In the roll of celebrities his hand has written 
many names. Diaghilev’s exploration for new talents did not exclude 
his respect for those fully recognized; but he could not help seeing a 
potential gem. That search for any new manifestation of beauty ac- 
corded so well with his temperament; for, hardly his task accomplished, 
the impetuous spirit shifted it off to press forward towards a new one. 

“A link had been forged between Diaghilev and me by our first collab- 
oration. To suit his purposes he had need of a young, receptive person- 
ality, of a clay unhardened in a final shape. He had need of me, and I 
had implicit belief in him. He enlarged the scope of my artistic emotions; 
he educated and formed me, not by ostentatious methods, not by preach- 
ing or philosophizing. A few casual words fetched a lucid conception, 
an image to be, out of the dark. Often did I sadly ruminate as to what 
he could have done for me had he but tried systematically to educate 
my mind. Who knows, perhaps these peripatetic lessons were what I 
needed most. Reasoning, logical conclusions never helped me, the more 
I reasoned, the fainter grew the image I tried to focus. My imagination 
would set to work only by the action of some hidden spring. I had but 
a slender luggage of real experience. The emotions called forth in em- 
bodying the tragic of which my parts had a large share could not but be 
potential ones. By uncanny intuition, Diaghilev could set in motion these 
hidden springs, of which I had no key as yet. 

“On his way from the stalls, where he had been watching the re- 
hearsal, Diaghilev stopped to say a few words as to my interpretation of 
‘Echo.* ‘Don’t trip lightly as a graceful nymph; I see rather a monu- 
mental figure, a tragic mask, Niobe.* He scanned the last word and 
went his way. And in my vision the heavy metric structure of the tragic 
name became the mournful tread of sleepless Echo. 

“And Thamar, that I had almost given up in despair. My original 
misconception called for a special visit of the Master. 



136 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

“‘Omission is the essence of art.’ That and ‘livid face — eyebrows in a 
single line.’ Nothing more, yet that was enough to touch the spring that 
made me see all Thamar in a flash. 

“To have known him I consider a favor of destiny, but not an un- 
mixed blessing. For, if Diaghilev was a spirit that moved the greatest 
difficulties out of the way, he was also a very erratic organizer. Casting 
in my lot with his was to bid farewell to my peace of mind.” ® 

Yes, many a time was Karsavina to be reft of her peace of mind, and 
be forced to submit to Diaghilev’s indomitable will. Again she writes: 

“I dreaded the telephone, as it was not easy to resist Diaghilev’s pres- 
sure. He would wear out his opponent, not by the logic of his argu- 
ments, but by sheer stress of his own will, by tenacity incredible. It 
seemed natural to him that everything should give way before his 
progress” .. “we became constantly engaged in unequal struggles. Ex- 
hortations from him ineffectual arguments from me — ^he would win at 
the end.”“ 


Anna Vavlova 

Anna Pavlova’s connection with the Diaghilev ballet was possibly 
the shortest of any, for though Diaghilev had hastened to sign her up 
for fifteen performances in London and Paris during 1910, after her 
1909 Parisian triumphs in CUopdtra and Les Sylphides, it was in 1910 
that nevertheless she left him. The reasons were many and various, 
perhaps the most important being jealousy of the immense prestige 
enjoyed by Nijinsky, for Pavlova was determined to be the Ballet’s one 
and only glory. Another was her interpretation of Diaghilev’s refusal to 
intercede with his uncle, an important magistrate in Russia, in a lawsuit 
in which her husband, d’Andre was involved, as due to personal enmity 
on his part. A third was Stravinsky. 

Meanwhile Diaghilev was going forward with plans for a production 
of VOiseau d& Feu with Pavlova as prima ballerina* When, however, the 
music was played to her, she thought it so complicated, so utterly mean- 
ingless, that at once she declared: 

“I shall never dance to such nonsense.” 

Diaghilev had been one of the first to realize the genius in Pavlova’s 
dancing, at a time when legend had not yet begun to busy itself with 
her reputation, when she was unknown and just beginning to make her 
mark among the ballerinas of the Mariinsky Theater. It therefore pained 
him greatly when she deserted his company, especially as he was unable 
to compete with the fees she could obtain in America. Yet he, better 
than most, realized that, with all her divine gifts, there were serious 

® Karsavina. Theatre Street, pp, 356-8. 

® Karsavina. Theatre Street, p. 359. 

^®Ibid., p. 369. 




Tamara Platonovna 
Karsavina 


Olga Spessiva 




FROM ”THE world OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET 1 37 

faults in her dancing, as, for instance, her addiction to cheap eJffects, 
what Diaghilev called her cabotinage, and a certain inadequacy in tech- 
nique, musical sense and rhythmic feeling. For all these reasons Spessiva 
seemed to him the greater dancer. Such an opinion, and especially one 
critical of her far-famed virtuosity, may seem to many pure profanation, or 
to reflect on Diaghilev’s judgment. Professionals, however, think other- 
wise, for all, beginning with her teacher Gerdt, were perfectly aware of 
the fact, and in no wise ascribed the divine beauty of her dancing to a 
fauldess technique, I venture, once more, to quota from Karsavina^s 
reminiscences of a time when she herself was comparatively a novice at 
the Theater School, while Pavlova was just about to complete her 
training. 

‘‘Three pupils of great promise were about to finish school this year, 
Anna Pavlova amongst them. She was so frail as to seem, in our 
opinion, much weaker than the other two. The pupils* undiscerning 
admiration was all for virtuosity: our ideals shaped after a robust, com- 
pact figure of Legnani’s type. Pavlova at that time hardly realized that 
in her lithe shape and in her technical limitations lay the greatest strength 
of her charming personality.”^^ And again: “Meagerness being con- 
sidered an enemy of good looks, the opinion prevailed that Anna Pav- 
lova needed feeding up. She must have thought it, too, as she swallowed 
conscientiously cod-liver oil, the school doctor’s panacea, and the aver- 
sion of us all. But, like the rest of us, she strove to emulate the paragon 
of virtuosity, Legnani. Luckily for her, Gerdt fully divined the quality 
of her talent. It pained him to see executed by the delicate limbs of 
Pavlova what seemed consistent only with the hard set musculature of 
the Italian dancer. He advised her not to strive after efEects that seemed 
to endanger her frail structure. 

“At the time of her debut she suffered acutely from what appeared 
to be her short-comings. ‘Leave the acrobatic effects to others. It positively 
hurts me to see the pressure such steps put on your delicate instep. 
What you imagine to be your short-comings are the rare qualities that 
single you out of thousands,’ Gerdt would say to her.”^^ 

How just was Diaghilev’s opinion, I had many an opportunity of 
assuring myself, for in 1929 I often practiced with this dancer, whom 
r reverendy adored. At such times I would see her going through her 
monstrous, hardly believable exercises, when, rising on her points at the 
barre, she would ask me to support her while she sought her balance. 
Whereupon she would say “now go,” remain motionless until she over- 
balanced, and once more repeat the exercise with tireless repetition. Music, 
the orchestra, were for her merely the thumping of a piano to some 
silent film, for neither the rhythm nor music meant anything to her : she 
would indicate to the conductor by a nod the end of a figure. Actually, 


Karsavina. Theatre Street, p. 83. 
Ibid., p. 84. 



138 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

she simply ignored the music, and behaved much like a tenor who ex- 
pects the orchestra always to follow his singing, and adapt itself to all 
his rhythmic vagaries. In The Dying Swan, her star part, she would die 
in a different manner at each performance, completely oblivious of the 
orchestra, and rejoining it only with the final chords. To me, it seemed 
as though the music actually ran counter to her dancing, for she possessed 
her own dance rhythms and music, which in no wise corresponded to 
the written accompaniment. She was a dancer of genius, but an inade- 
quate interpreter of the musical image. Anna Pavlova had many faults, 
and one of the greatest was an almost total unreceptiveness; neverthe- 
less, she was in her way incomparable and unique, and thus her faults 
were forgotten and the legend created. On the stage, in Giselle, or The 
Dying Swan, she became something translucent, intangible, incorporeal, 
... It was no longer the dancer Pavlova; it was Giselle eternally dying 
and eternally resuscitated, ghosdy and imponderable, merging into and 
out of the loveliness of the white swan. Such was her dying, there on the 
stage, that one always seemed to be bidding her a last farewell. It was 
as though only the merest film separated life from death, the woman- 
dancer from the ghost of a vision. The dream, the fairy legend, were 
made real by her, and when the film vanished altogether away it was 
like some natural transition in which her own reality faded into the 
land of legend. And still her life seems to go on among us, lovely and 
translucent as ever. 

The last occasion on which I ever met her was in 1930, at the Golder’s 
Green Hippodrome, where she was appearing in fulfillment of Diaghilev’s 
English stage contracts, the whole of which she had taken over. With me 
was Lady Eleanor Smith, her sister Pamela, and some other friends of 
Serge Pavlovitch, and we sat on the floor, in the front row of the stalls, 
for the house was sold out (or so, at least, d’ Andre told us). 

Pavlova danced. Her body, her legs, her very knees seemed palpi- 
tating with some divine energy, and her arabesques were sublime. Yet 
her success was but mediocre, when compared with the applause won 
by her partners in their Russian step dance. I alone, the only person in 
the theater possibly, applauded frantically, and threw her a rose which 
she caught in midair, smiling her thanks. The performance over, I led 
my friends to her dressing room, and, when they had gone, remained 
for a while alone with her and her dresser. Whereupon the following 
conversation took place; our last, as it proved. 

“Annushka, why do you do all this, why all these performances in 
which so little of the real thing is left.?” 

At which, reclining there on the sofa, with a sort of dreamy playful- 
ness, as though some spoiled provincial actress, she replied: 

“I love to give beauty... to spread it among the people... one has 
to sow beauty ... to sow it whole-heartedly in smiles of beauty.” 

“But they don’t understand you any more, Annushka.” 



FROM ‘‘the world OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BAELET 1 39 

Whjereupon silence fell, and I changed the conversation. 

“Is it true what the papers say, that this is your last season?” 

“What nonsense, what a stupid canard I But tell me, Lifar, when are 
we going to dance together? I haven’t by any means given up the idea. 

I should like to dance with you very much, though you really aren’t 
worth it!” 

“Anna Pavlova, I must tell you, that nothing would give me greater 
happiness. You, your genius, have my completest devotion. When I see 
you in your divine moments, I value them so highly and enter so 
deeply into them, and into your art which I consider unsurpassLngly 
lovely, that I would even be prepared to kill you to make you stop 
dancing. ... Then I should be sure my vision of you would be the last, 
and that you could never impair it by one of those moments in which 
you are unworthy of your genius.” 

Pavlova turned pale. I thought she would have me thrust from the 
room, but suddenly she seized my head and impetuously kissed me. I 
kissed her leg... the leg of the “Dying Swan” and Pavlova seemed 
moved. 

“Now go away, leave me to myself. I must be alone. . . .” 

“Give me something to remember this by,” 

“Yes, yes. I’ll send it to you. But now go, , . ,” 

I went, and never saw her again. Nothing came, but her image will 
always remain in my heart, lovely, true, and... dual. 

M. M. Fokine and the influence on him of 
Diaghilev, Benois, and Bakst 

The second to abandon Diaghilev was M. M. Fokine, the most talented 
chore-author of the twentieth century. Yet, though a genius of dancing 
like Karsavina was able to admit her immense debt to Diaghilev, and 
regret she could not owe more to him, Fokine, with offended pride, 
would never admit he was anything but an accomplished chore-author 
on his entry into Diaghilev’s Ballet, and could therefore owe him nothing. 

This perverse repudiation, however, conceals an error which it would 
be well to correct. Actually, Fokine had made the acquaintance of 
Diaghilev and his circle long before the beginning of the Russian season 
in Paris and his appointment as ballet master. But more surprising still, 
is Fokine’s claim to be already the “accomplished choreographer,” for 
in that case Fokine would have remained as he was, and no future 
development would have been possible, a conclusion but little to his 
credit. Fortunately, the facts prove otherwise, when we see the immense 
distance traveled between Petrouchka and JDaphnis and Chios, created 
under the direct influence of Diaghilev, Benois and Bakst, and his early 
productions of Bunice and Im Vigne. 

This, however, we may concede to Fokine, that other influences were 



140 SERGE DIAGHIEEV 

at work in addition to that of Diaghilev. As powerful, perhaps, was that 
of Isadora Duncan, to whom Eunice, a “dramatic” ballet, raised on a 
foundation of purely classical academic dancing, stands as a permanent 
memorial. This ballet is an exemplification of the purest “duncanism,” 
yet similar elements may be traced all through his work. Diaghilev was 
certainly right when he wrote: “Duncan’s influence on him was the 
very foundation of all his creative activity.” 

Throughout the whole of his creative activity, based as it was on the 
traditions of academic ballet as taught in the Imperial Theater schools, 
a tradition which Diaghilev greatly respected, though welcoming the 
most daring innovations so long as they linked up with that tradition, 
Fokine depended enormously on music and the art of the painter. From 
the very opening of the century, Fokine the reformer, in whom the 
spirit of protest and reform at times attained an almost schismatic vio- 
lence, ready to overturn the very bases of his art, was uninterruptedly 
preaching that music was no mere accompaniment to some rhythmic pas, 
but in fact its very essence, for it alone determined the choreographer’s 
inspiration. Thus the quality of the music was of paramount importance. 
This, indeed, was the basic principle which brought both him and Diag- 
hilev together. Yet, if any reasonable doubt could possibly exist as to 
Diaghilev’s influence in establishing a new relation between the ballet 
and music, a relation illustrated so vividly and with such freshness in 
Fokine’s best ballets, ballets which marked an era in the art of dancing, 
there can be none whatever when we regard that other characteristic 
of his ballets, the new relation established between ballet and painting, 
for which he stood so clearly indebted to Diaghilev’s co-workers, Bakst 
and Benois. The analysis of any of the ballets produced by Fokine for 
Diaghilev must prove this beyond the slightest doubt. In any case, much 
independent testimony supports my viewpoint, as, for instance, these 
words by Henri Prunieres, already quoted by me, to Fokine’s annoy- 
ance, in my book Ballet, Traditional to Modern: 

“I once expressed my astonishment at the lack of originality shown 
by such an eminent technician as Fokine, after he had left the company. 
Whereupon, with his invariable smile, Bakst replied : ‘You know, they are 
all the same — ^no imagination ... I had to show him scene by scene what 
needed to be done. Then finally he worked out the dance steps. ... In 
exacdy the same way Alexandre Benois inspired the choreography of 
many of the ballets.’” 

True, these words are somewhat cruel, and harshly stated, and I am 
willing, therefore, to quote others of a milder nature. In this case it is 
A. Benois who corroborates my statement as to the degree in which 
Diaghilev and his group of painters influenced Fokine. “Once more 
the part played by the painters was of the greatest significance, for it 
would be understating matters to say that painters such as Bakst, A. 
Benois, Serov, Korovin, and Golovin merely created a frame within 



FROM ”THE 'W'ORLD OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BAEEET I4I 

which Fokine, Nijinsky, Pavlova, Karsavina, Feodorova and many an- 
other, could perform, when in fact the whole idea of these performances 
was inspired by them, too. It was we, the painters — ^not the professional 
stage decorators, but the real painters — ^who, profoundly attracted by the 
stage, took up stage-design and so helped to mold the art of dancing 
along new lines, and, indeed, the whole of the production. It was this 
unofficial, unprofessional influence which imparted a specific character 
to all our productions, and to it we may venture, without undue pre- 
sumption, to assert that they owed the major part of their immense 
success.” 

V. J. Svedov, the well-known ballet critic and friend of Diaghilev, 
refers in much the same terms to the part played by these painters in 
the development of the ballet. Somewhat earlier I quoted his description 
of the collective manner in which the ballets were created, and all I 
would add is the following: “To my mind our painters have played an 
all-important part in the revolution of the ballet, now taking place in 
front of our very eyes. It is they who are the true authors of its renais- 
sance, and it seems to me that both historic accuracy and mere justice 
demand that this fact should at last be admitted and loudly acclaimed.” 

It is generally admitted, and would indeed be difficult to deny, that 
Fokine earned his pre-eminence by the magnificent way in which he 
succeeded in stylizing various historical periods, his most successful efforts 
being SchShSrazade (moresque), ClSopdtra (ancient Egypt) , and Daphnis 
and Chloe (early Greek). Each of these ballets reveals Fokine as en- 
dowed with a knowledge and erudition far superior to anything found 
in a Russian (or any other) choreographer before. Yet it would be the 
greatest injustice to Diaghilev, Benois and Bakst to contend that this 
erudition was Fokine’s alone, and not that also of these others. Is tit 
possible to believe, for instance, that Fokine alone created ClSopdtra and 
Daphnis and Chloe, when it was Bakst who reconstructed each pose 
from works of art of the period, and who, with the choreographer, 
worked out each in detail, so that all that remained for Fokine was to 
complete the motions appropriate to each? Nevertheless, it was Fokine 
who first transformed the corps de ballet from a sort of generalized 
and indispensable background, the “ballabile,” against which the soloists* 
dance pattern might stand sharply out, into a definite entity which even 
at times filled up the foreground. Before Fokine our ballet masters had, 
as it were, subordinated everything to soloists, the ballerinas in particu- 
lar, instead of demanding their subordination to their r 61 es in terms of 
dancing. Fokine subordinated the individual performer to the ensemble, 
and utterly set himself against the stage cult of the “inner personality.*’ 
It is sufficient to recall Diaghilev’s articles in World of Art on the 
Moscow Art Theater to perceive how greatly Fokine’s new principles 
derived from him. As far as I am concerned. Serge Pavlovitch’s own 
words to me, twenty years after, completely decide the matter, when he 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


142 

said, “in the days when Fokine as producer and Nijinsky as dancer, 
both decided to carry out my artistic ideas^ I shall have to return to 
these words when I come to discuss how that promise was kept. 

Diaghilev gready admired Fokine’s talent, his flexibility and impetu- 
osity, not to mention his capacity for enthusiasm. Nevertheless, there 
were constant quarrels, for the most part revolving round Nijinsky, the 
pretext of so many of Diaghilev*s quarrdls, and also because of a cer- 
tain similarity in their natures. As Karsavina says of him: “What he 
could not stand was the obviousness of difiiculty, an exhibition of tech- 
nical tricks. 

“In the course of the same rehearsal Fokine would be moved to trans- 
ports, alternately of admiration and fury. Because of his earnestness, of 
his demanding of the best one could give, we his followers were de- 
voted to him, though he was extremely irritable, and had no control of 
his temper. At the beginning it used to upset us; in time we grew used 
to chairs thrown about, to his leaving rehearsals in the middle, to his 
vehement harangues. At theater rehearsals he sat in the stalls to see the 
effect of his staging. Over the heads of the orchestra, his voice, hoarse 
with shouting, opened at intervals a machine-gun fire of imprecations. 
Tutrid execution. Loose, untidy. I won’t stand carelessness.* 

“In time, when not only a comparatively small group was at his com- 
mand, but the whole of our company abroad respected a leader in his 
person, he grew even more dictatorial. I remember an incident at Monte 
Carlo. He was taking the rehearsal of Giselle. The same evening I had 
to dance the part and naturally spared myself, only marking the steps and 
the chief moments of the acting. The ensemble lagged; Fokine waxed 
wroth; suddenly he flew at me. ‘How can I blame the corps de ballet, 
if the star herself gives a bad example? Yes! your example is corrupting, 
shameful, scandalous.’ He rushed off. The same night he fondly hovered 
round me, giving a touch to my make-up. He smiled blandly when I 
poured out my grievance against the morning scene, and commented on 
my last act of Giselle. ‘You seemed to float in the air. . . 

I shall have more to say about Fokine as chore-author when 1 come 
to deal separately with his ballets. Here I would only point out one par- 
ticular quality of his, as invaluable in a chore-author as in a ballet 
master, producer or teacher; namely, his capacity for being swept out 
of himself, a capacity which worked wonders with both dancers and 
audiences. Though Fokine may not have revealed a remarkable inventive- 
ness in the originating of dance patterns, nevertheless, everything he 
produced in his first years as ballet master was extraordinarily vivid, 
astonishingly new and original, and charged with his fiery spirit. One 
example from his masterpiece The Polovtsian Dances, in Prince Igor, 
will suffice us. Solely as a dance creation it cannot be said to differ 
greatly from the earlier production by Lev Ivanov. But while the latter- 
Karsavina. Theatre Street, p. 212. 



FROM “the world OF ART*’ TO THE RUSSIAN BAIXET 1 43 

seemed drab and insignificantj Fokine’s arrangements, by tbeir impetu- 
osity and fire, drew cries o£ frenzied enthusiasm from all who bdield 
them. It was this fire in him which made him so admirable a ballet 
master and producer. The performers themselves became as inspired as 
he was and would go on working till they dropped. 

In 1912, however, soon after the production of IJApres-Midi d*un Faune, 
Fokine abandoned Diaghilev’s company, or rather, was sacrificed to the 
latter’s new chore-author, Nijinsky. Serge Pavlovitch was hoping for 
marvels and made no secret of the fact, and this Fokine found it im- 
possible to stomach. But two years later, the Russian Ballet being then 
in the throes of its first ballet-master crisis, Diaghilev was forced once 
more to turn to Fokine. Though he returned, however, it was only 
temporarily, for Serge Pavlovitch still dreamed of conquering new worlds, 
while Fokine remained unaltered. As he had been in 1914, so he was 
still, even though at that date he was already declining. Of the later 
productions only Le Coq d*Or can be said to have been truly successful, 
and even that cannot compare with his triumphs of 1911-12. Diaghilev 
realized that nothing new was to be hoped for from Fokine, and for- 
tunately, at just that moment, a new chore-author was revealed in the 
Ballet . . . Massine. Thus the matter was finally decided. Diaghilev had 
no further use for Fokine, and Fokine had no use for the Russian 
Ballet, upon which the two men parted conclusively. 

"Vaslav Nijinsky 

But the real pride of Diaghilev’s fife, the joy of his heart, a joy too 
often poisoned, alas! and the cause of his acutest anguish, was — Nijinsky. 

Only a year after passing out of the Imperial Dancing School in 1908, 
Nijinsky was already being hailed as a very phenomenon of dancing. 
It must be said, however, that, even while a student, St. Petersburg 
hummed with rumors of an extraordinary dancer, unique in the annals of 
the Imperial Theaters and the ballet. Strangely enough, when Jacques 
Rouche visited Russia in 1914, and there declared how much it aston- 
ished him to think that the Theater School could have parted so easily 
with sudb a dancer, he was informed that, since the Mariinsky Theater 
possessed great numbers of first-rate dancers, there was no point in at- 
taching particular importance to any one of them; that, in fact, “they 
had as many as they wanted,” all every whit as accomplished as Nijinsky. 

Thus, having abandoned his connection with the Imperial Theaters, 
Nijinsky linked his fate with that of Diaghilev. And since the whole 
future of his Ballet, for Diaghilev, was bound up with this ardent 
friendship of his, Diaghilev felt it incumbent upon him to establish a 
permanent company. 

Also, he began to surround his “Vatza” with infinite attentions, and 
even provided a bodyguard for him in the person of his own valet, the 



144 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

faithful Vassili, to keep him segregated from the world. As a result Nijin- 
sky never really succeeded in being at home in it. 

For instance, during our London season in 1911, a supper was given 
for Diaghilev by Lady de Grey, afterwards Marchioness of Ripon, one 
of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, who, in London, stood much in the 
same relation to us as the Comtesse de Greffuhle in Paris. Queen Alex- 
andra was present, and the hostess placed Nijinsky on her right, a gesture 
which English society accepted without a murmur. Nijinsky, however, 
unable to speak any foreign language, uttered no word, and conse- 
quendy earned a reputation for being an incomprehensible, “mysterious” 
creature. 

Indeed, Nijinsky had so little direct contact with others and even with 
the company of the Russian Ballet, before becoming its chore-author, 
and the tour to America, that hardly anybody realized the kind of per- 
son he was. But those who did, knew that in Nijinsky a great dancer had 
been born: one who, living only for dancing, and possessed of the danc- 
er’s instinctive ilan, was bound to surpass them all. Nature, however, 
having lavishly endowed him with one gift, denied him every other. He 
was weak, and could offer no resistance to alien influences; he was un- 
able to think for himself, and besides lacked musical sense. Indeed, his 
only form of expression lay in dancing. 

When Nijinsky became ballet master, his inability to put his ideas into 
words made rehearsals a perpetual torment to the company. Karsavina, 
his constant partner, describes them thus: “Nijinsky had no gift of pre- 
cise thought, still less that of expressing his ideas in adequate words. 
Were he called upon to issue a manifesto of his new creed, for his dear 
life he could not have given a clearer statement than the one he had 
given to explain his wonderful capacity for soaring in the air.’^*. . . Cer- 
tainly at the rehearsals of ]eux he was at a loss to explain what he wanted 
of me. And it was far from easy to learn the part by a mechanical proc- 
ess of imitating the postures as demonstrated by him. As I had to keep 
my head screwed on one side, both hands curled as one maimed from 
birth, it would have helped me to know what it was for. In ignorance 
of my purpose I occasionally lapsed into my normal shape and Nijinsky 
began to nourish a suspicion of my unwillingness to obey him. Best of 
friends on and off the stage, we often fought during the preparation of 
our parts. On this occasion our collisions were worse and more ludicrous 
than ever. Unaided by understanding, I had to learn by heart the se- 
quence of movements and once asked: ‘What comes after . . .’ ‘You should 
have known by now, I won’t tell you.’ ‘Then I will give up my part.’ 
After two days* strike a big bunch of flowers was laid at my door and 
in the evening a complete reconciliation was brought about by Diag- 
hilev.” 

“It’s very simple,” he had said; “you jump and just stop in the air for a moment.” 

Karsavina. Theatre Street, pp. 290-1. 




Vaslav Nijinsky in Pavilion d’ Ar mid e 







FROM **THE WORLD OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET 1 45 

Is it to be wondered at, therefore, that, given Nijinsky’s intellectual 
incapacity, Diaghilev sought to segregate him from society, and the com- 
pany in particular, lest anyone should suspect that “the King is naked”? 

Romola Nijinsky, in her biography of the great dancer,^® talks of 
Nijinsky’s quite amazing musical sense, but perhaps Stravinsky can 
better enlighten us as to its actual nature. According to Stravinsky’s ac- 
count, Nijinsky, though possessed of a remarkable feeling for plastic 
beauty, was absolutely ignorant of the first principles of music. He had 
never learned to play an instrument and could not even understand mu- 
sical notation. Worse stiU, he seemed incapable of any genuine apprecia- 
tion of music. Hist comments on what he heard were either cliches or 
derived direcdy from the criticism of others. He had, apparendy, no 
musical judgment of his own. 

Nijinsky’s ignorance of music caused great difficulties when he and 
Stravinsky were working together. It was soon clear to Stravinsky that 
nothing would be achieved until he had made Nijinsky tmderstand the 
elementary grammar of music. But Nijinsky did not find it easy to re- 
member what he was taught. In particular, he never thoroughly grasped 
the significance of tempo and the time values of different notes. Left to 
himself, he would construct dance-movements that had litde relation, 
rhythmically, to the music which accompanied them. Stravinsky had 
always to be pointing out his mistakes. 

Naturally progress was slow and Stravinsky’s patience was hard-pressed. 
It was all the more discouraging because — ^pardy from inexperience, partly 
because of the complication of the work he had undertaken — ^Nijinsky 
elaborated his dances to an absurd degree and thus imposed on the 
dancers difficulties which, in some cases, were beyond the scope of the 
human body. 

I repeat, Nijinsky was an exceptional dancer, but only a dancer. Never- 
theless, Diaghilev was determined to endow him with greatness, and to 
turn him into a great creative artist. It was not enough for him merely 
to mold Nijinsky’s genius for dancing, or rather that uniqueness, that 
phenomenal natural aptitude for dancing of his. This statement may 
seem strange, but it is well supported by the testimony of practically all 
his contemporaries. In his last years at the dancing school of the Imperial 
Theaters, marvelous things were said of his sauts, but he himself gave 
the impression of being on the whole “rather surly and stupid,” and no 
one suspected what he would prove in the end. “In later years,” writes his 
ex-pupil Karsavina, “Diaghilev, with that clear conception of his that 
was almost uncanny, revealed to the world and to the artist himself the 
latter’s true shape. At the expense of his better self, Nijinsky vaHantly tried 

is regrettable that this interesting and abundantly documented book should contain 
so many unverified statements that one hardly dare quote from it. The fault of the work 
may in part be explained by the author’s ignorance of the Russian language which 
involves her in a number of serious errors, such as translating Nijinsky's signature, to a 
document relating to the period of his insanity, as "God and Nijinsky” when clearly 
“God Nijinsky” was written. Even more &ntasdc is the tale of Diaglulev's “revenge.” 



146 SERGE DIAGHTLEV 

to answer the requirements of the traditional type till Diaghilev the 
wizard touched him with his magic wand. The guise of a plain, un- 
prepossessing boy fell o£E — creature, exotic, feline, elfin, completely 
eclipsed the respectable comeliness, the dignified commonplace of con- 
ventional virility.”^’’ 

The part played hy Diaghilev in the development of Nijinsky’s per- 
sonality as a dancer, the glories revealed to die world in discovering its 
greatest genius of the dance, might well have made him dispense with 
all further activity in the furtherance of male dancing. 

However, urged by his desire to provide Nijinsky with an artistic edu- 
cation, he traveled with him through Italy, and together they visited the 
art sanctuaries of Venice, Milan, Rome and Florence. But even Florence 
only brushed him by : there was no impact, and though Serge Pavlovitch 
sedulously led his "Vatza” to concerts, Nijinsky continued to remain 
musically deaf. 

Not for a moment would Nijinsky stray from Diaghilev’s side, and 
that colossal figure screened and sheltered him from the world. Never- 
theless, he lacked the intellect to profit from constant association with so 
exceptional a man. All he derived were a few stock phrases, more often 
repeated wrongly than rightly. Then in a flash of inspiration, Diaghilev 
decided that the moment was ripe for Nijinsky to make his debut as 
chore-author and ballet master. The two men were sitting in the Piazza 
San Marco, it was 19 ii, when suddenly the whole outline of a future 
ballet, Faune, appeared to Diaghilev. Leaping to his feet there and then, 
between two pillars, he began to depict the dense angular plastic move- 
ments of this ballet, and so enthused Nijinsky that for a time all else 
was ousted from his mind. Thereafter, hour upon hour would be spent 
in museums, studying the plastic forms of the past, in efforts to establish 
their dynamic motion. Immediately after the return to Monte Carlo the 
production was put in hand. 

This first creative effort of Nijinsky’s entailed immense and arduous 
effort on the part of everyone, chiefly because of his inexperience, one 
result being that Bakst and Diaghilev needed to be constantly at his side. 
Stravinsky himself tells us, in his Chronicle of My Life, that Bakst, more 
than anyone else, was responsible for the production of UApr^s-Midi 
d'un Faune. Not only did he create the d^cor and costumes — both of 
remarkable beauty — but, according to Stravinsky, he inspired the chore- 
ography, down to the smallest details. 

Diaghilev was present at every rehearsal, of which there were more 
than a hundred, Nijinsky worked at each bar of the music separately, and 
after each, turning to Diaghilev, would ask: 

“Is that right. Serge Pavlovitch? And now, what next?” 

In spite of the agonies undergone by everyone connected with the 
ballet, to which I shall return, in spite of the fact that Nijinsky revealed 
Karsavina. Theatre Street, p. 182. 



FROM “the world OF ART^’ TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET 1 47 

not one ounce of creative talent, and that everyone round Diaghilev con- 
stantly reiterated that Nijinsky could never prove himself a creative 
choreographer, Diaghilev, whether through obstinacy and unwillingness 
to admit failure, or sincere conviction, the following season entrusted 
Vaslav with the production of two more ballets, Stravinsky’s Sucre du 
Printemps and Jeux by Debussy. True, the Sucre was eventually brought 
to a successful conclusion, but what untold torments this choreographical 
efEort cost Nijinsky, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Roehrich and the whole com- 
pany, only to be completely recast seven years later by Massine. On the 
other hand Jeux never really entered die repertoire, and was never re- 
vived. Hereupon Nijinsky’s experiments in choreography came to an end, 
except for his American production, pushed through in spite of every- 
one and everything, of Richard Strauss’s Tyl Eulenspiegel, which even 
Diaghilev himself disapproved of. I say “even Diaghilev,” for obstinately 
and persistently he would assert that Nijinsky was not only a great dancer, 
but endowed with immense creative talent. Even as late as the last year 
of his life he wrote: “His genius was equally at home whether in dancing 
or choreography. He hated all dancing which he himself had not cre- 
ated,^® and proved himself remarkably fertile in devising dances for every- 
one but himself.” 

One concession and one only does Diaghilev make: namely, that Nijin- 
sky’s tragedy lay in the fact that he could not invent dances for himself, 
that his choreography and inventiveness were at cross purposes with his 
legs. Nijinsky the choreographer, where Nijinsky the dancer was con- 
cerned, forced upon himself steps totally unsuited to the nature of his 
gifts, and particularly unsuited to his “elevation.” 

Estrangement between Nijinsky and "Diaghilev 

From 1913 an estrangement between the two men begins to appear. 
He who would never allow Nijinsky out of his sight, he who had so 
jealously guarded and protected him from the outer world, as though 
with a foreboding of danger, a knowledge that Nijinsky would lose 
himself in that world, now allowed him to undertake the distant journey 
to America out of his hands; and that world overwhelmed him and 
crushed his soul. 

First Romola Pulszky, who made him marry her, and then the “Tol- 
stoyans” of the troupe, the two N. N.’s, took possession of him. In the 
matter of his imexpected marriage, Nijinsky manifested an attitude of 
such passivity, that even then it verged on the abnormal. It was as 
though anyone who cared might dispose of his life and mind! In her 
book Romola Nijinsky tells in detail how she made the great dancer 
mar ry her, and of the vegetarian, ascetic and Tolstoyan sermonizing that 
descended on his unhappy head. It is obvious enough from her tale that. 
Is not this why Fokine was forced to go? 



148 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

much as she disapproved, she could do nothing to withstand the Tol- 
stoyism expounded by the converts in the ballet. Nijinsky was unable to 
cope with (or, for that matter, understand), or master, the contradic- 
tions in which he was involved by the new creed, the creed of a harsh 
morality in conflict with his dancer’s nature. No one can read the pages 
relating to his Tolstoyism, which hastened the progress of his mental 
disease, without emotion and dread.^® I often felt haunted by the image 
of the wretched Nijinsky walking down the street of his Swiss village 
wearing his big gold cross, and stopping the passers-by to preach his 
Christianity, a dread as intense as that produced by Romola Nijinsky’s 
account of how she caused him to marry her. 

Nijinsky betrayed Diaghilev for another, but can one speak of betrayal 
when the betrayer lacks any real will power, and is, in addition, hardly 
responsible for his actions? Given the lead, Nijinsky would follow no 
matter whom, and thus it was that his master, his “demigod,” was sup- 
planted by a mistress who brought him many misfortunes. Not a word 
of the marriage did Nijinsky convey to the man with whom his life had 
been linked so closely, and Diaghilev heard of it only from that faithful 
servant Vassili, whom he had sent with Nijinsky to America. On receiv- 
ing the news he burst into a fit of ungovernable fury, a lion’s madness, 
smashed chairs and tables, and, raging, hurled himself round the room. 

This marriage bludgeoned Diaghilev. Nothing had ever caused him 
such anguish. True, there had been the beginnings of an estrangement, 
but the blow and its irrevocable nature revealed how deeply Nijinsky 
had entered into his soul, how impossible it was to tear him out of it. 
To his last breath Nijinsky remained dear to him, however much the 
latter might have hurt or outraged him, however utterly he had died to 
dancing and the world. Thus, life always repeated itself for Diaghijev: 
his attraction to his friends would wane, his afEections cool, he too would 
even “betray”; and yet some link remained in his soul. Then a day would 
come, soon or late (though generally late), when, confessed or uncon- 
fessed, he would once more assume that allegiance which he had appeared 
to cast away with such ease. 

About to start back from America, Nijinsky received the following 
telegram; Ballet Russe n*a plus hesoin de vos services. "Ne nous 
rejoignez pas. Serge de Diaghilev.” Thus it seemed that the breach was 
complete and final. During the war, however, Nijinsky was interned in 
Austria under conditions impossible to describe, whereupon Diaghilev, 
who still kept a watchful eye over him, was moved to come to his help. 
The demigod” still ruled over some corner of the dancer’s unhappy 
soul, and he was cruel enough to confess the fact to his wife; “I do not 
regret my relations with Serge Pavlovitch, whatever morality may say.” 

On a number of occasions the two men, for Nijinsky still remained 

Nijinsky had a hereditary predisposition to mental abnormality. Even in the St. 
Petersburg days, Diaghilev had already had him treated by Dr. Botkin, virho saw threat- 
enmg symptoms in the fact that Nijinsky sufEered from glanrlnla.- defect. 



FROM "the 'WORLD OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET 1 49 

under the sway of his former master and friend, were on the point of 
reconciliation, but on each occasion Romola stood in the way. Finally, 
after considerable efEort, Diaghilcv succeeded in obtaining Nijinsky’s 
release, and permission was given for him to leave for America. There, 
Diaghilev welcomed them both in all friendship, and placed Nijinsky in 
charge of the artistic side of the ballet for the forthcoming season. In 
spite of the fact that this was unwelcome to the company, for we know 
how intolerable he made rehearsals, even Romola Nijinsky admits that 
the dancers treated Vaslav with the most perfect courtesy. In her own 
words: “Great courtesy was shown to me, more even than in the old 
days.” And adds in explanation: “Diaghilev must have given his 
orders.” 

Just, however, as Diaghilev was taking steps to effect a complete 
reconciliation with Nijinsky, the latter’s wife saw fit to embark on a 
lawsuit against him, and at the same time did all in her power to instill 
into the impressionable, unresisting mind of her poor husband the absurd 
and pernicious idea, now an obsession, that Diaghilev was determined to 
encompass his utter destruction. She even suspected him of having insti- 
gated an attempt on her husband’s life in Buenos Aires. 

Nevertheless, Diaghilev received the couple with the utmost cordiality 
when they next met, in Madrid. To quote Mme. Nijinsky yet again: “At 
that time Diaghilev affected a fatherly, protective, and kind manner 
towards me. Vaslav triumphantly declared: 

“ ‘There, you see, Femmka, I always told you he would be our friend I* 

“And Vaslav told me again how Diaghilev had helped a former great 
friend when he got into difficulties, years after his marriage, and his wife 
sought Serge Pavlovitch’s aid. Vaslav was so happy that he would have 
done anything to please Diaghilev, and the matter of the contract was 
not brought up. ‘Serge Pavlovitch is the same as ever; there is no need 
of discussion. He will be fair to me — ^let us give him a chance to prove it.’ 

“Every day Diaghilev thought of some place of interest to take us to. 
He was very friendly to me during these days in Madrid. His amazing 
hypnotic power did not seem to have lessened with the years.” 

^ With open hearts Nijinsky and Diaghilev went out to meet eadi other, 
but once more the figure of the dancer’s wife was to rise between them. 
As a result, Diaghilev found himself compelled to resort to the police 
to force Nijinsky into fulfilling his side of the contract. No alternative was 
possible, for he himself had contracted to present Nijinsky. For several 
days after, Nijinsky kept to his room, and then, acting on the advice of 
certain “friends,” instead of going to the theater, packed his trunks and 
left for the station. 

These performances under duress, presented in 1917 in Spain, were 
the last in which Diaghilev saw Nijinsky dance. Soon after, the latter. 


20 Romola Nijinsky. NijinsJ^y, p. 31^ 

21 Romola Nijinsky. Nijinstiy. pp. 358-9. 



150 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

with the whole company^ though not Diaghilev, left on a South American 
tour after which Nijinsky settled in Switzerland. Here his mental disease 
became more pronounced^ and soon all intercourse with the outer world 
was necessarily interrupted, 

Diaghilev was grievously afflicted by the calamity which had overtaken 
the great dancer. Cruelly inevitable though it was, had not life’s hazards 
removed him from Diaghilev’s beneficent influence, that breakdown 
would certainly have been delayed. 

To his last breath Diaghilev refused to reconcile himselE to his friend’s 
misfortune, and never abandoned the hope that some shock might restore 
to the world the old Nijinsky. He himself, on several occasions, sought to 
provoke such a shock. I remember, for instance, how, in the spring of 
1924, Nijinsky, accompanied by his sister-in-law, Tessa Pulszky, was 
taken to a rehearsal of Les Fdcheux, where his appearance greatly dis- 
tressed our dancers. It was impossible to look at him without an obscure 
feeling of dread, for he went on gazing intently over their heads, while 
a senseless half-smile played on his lips, the terrifying, unearthly half- 
smile of a human creature, oblivious to all things. There we stood with 
hanging heads, both newcomers and long-established members of the 
ballet, once his familiars, when his fame had resounded through the 
world, while sad thoughts and bitter memories passed through our minds 
and were reflected in every motion of our dancing. Every pas we danced 
was slow, solemn and unwilling, as though fearful we might offend; 
while he, the King of Dancers, looked on as one who would never dance 
again. 

But no beneficial shock resulted, in spite of the familiar surroundings, 
and when, five years later, Diaghilev repeated the same experiment at 
the Paris Opera House, only a few months before his own death, the 
effect was equally negative.*® 

Other collaborators in the Ballet 

If I have perhaps devoted overmuch space to Nijinsky, the reason must 
be looked for more in the part he played in Diaghilev’s life than in his 
importance to the Ballet, great though that was. Such was the intimacy 
of the bond which bound these men together that any omission must have 
produced an equivalent impoverishment in my account of the life of 
Diaghilev. 

Among those who accompanied the latter to Paris none was of equal 
importance, and I shall therefore limit myself to mentioning but few. 
And first, those by right of seniority: Bohn, to whom is due the chief 
credit for the success of the Polovtsian Dances and who produced Sad\o 
in America, and Kremnev, for whom Diaghilev felt greater sympathy and 
fondness than for any member of the company. Often he would relate 

22 For the most recent account of Nijinsky’s condition see Appendix A. 



FROM **TH:E world of art” to the RUSSIAN BALLET I51 

how he and Rosay came to the rescue and “saved” 2> Favillon d* Armide 
during the Coronation festivities of 1911. 

Nor must we forget Grigoriev, who, as producer, was associated with 
the Ballet from its first days to the last, duties which, in 1901, he shared 
with Satin. Though he had passed through both the Dramatic and Ballet 
Schools, Grigoriev never revealed creative imagination or initiative. As 
Diaghilev bid, so did he do. But orders were always transmitted with 
the utmost fidelity, and the discipline, the general order of the company, 
were admirably watched over. He was one of the most faithful of 
Diaghilev’s collaborators, and the latter had implicit faith in him, though 
always keeping him at a certain distance. 

Closest to Diaghilev was the valet who had been in his employ ever 
since his undergraduate days. This Vassili, surnamed Zuiev (which, with 
Diaghilev’s permission, he changed to Zuikov, became also the ballet’s 
** costumier.” In many ways his position resembled that of the nanny 
Dunia, and except for one occasion, that on which Diaghilev entrusted 
Nijinsky to his care during the journey to South America, he was never 
absent from his master. Nijinsky was very fond of Vassili, for when nerv- 
ous and depressed none but Vassili could soothe or reason with him. To 
his master, Vassili was slavishly devoted. All through the period when 
Diaghilev was scouring Russia for paintings for his exhibitions, and later, 
in Europe, always Vassili accompanied him. From him, more than from 
anyone else, Diaghilev knew everything that went on in the company. 
Though he himself remained aloof from his dancers, Diaghilev never- 
theless enjoyed listening to tales and gossip about the inner life of the 
company. Simple peasant though he might be, Vassili’s influence in the 
troupe was immense. To me he was always the soul of kindness, though 
he could never refrain from having his little joke at my expense, always 
reminding me I was “a greenhorn.” But again, he was the first to see 
me for what I was, for “You are a real one,” he one day declared, from 
which moment everyone in the company began to think similarly.^® 

One of the friends of The World of Art days, V. F. Nouvel, became, 
as it were, the business manager, and as such was constantly mislaying 
the files which contained the contracts. Nevertheless, his position in the 
Ballet was far less important than it had been on The World of Art. 
However highly Diaghilev had esteemed his opinions, that estimation sank 

In her Theatre Street, p. 262, Karsavina quotes the' following anecdote about him, 
which I, too, have heard from Diaghilev’s lips; “His valet, as was indeed natural to 
Russian servants, would come unbidden constantly in and out of the rooms. Diaghilev 
and his friends b^g pracdcally staggered under a recent blow, there was much talk of 
intriguing and intris^ues. When the suggestion crystallized in Vassili’s mind, he suggested 
direct action. 

“ ‘Barin, shall we do away with the villainess?’ 'What do you mean?’ The hand moved 
in dumb show, brushing something aside. *What can one do, Vassili?’ 'Shall I, Barin . . . ?’ 
Another dumb show demonstrated the action. ‘Just a litde powder.* No common hireling, 
Vassili had towards his master the unquestioning devotion of an old retainer- When 
crossing to America, Diaghilev daily ordered Vassili to kneel down and pray for the 
safety of their voyage. And while the valet performed religious exercises his master paced 
up and down the deck in better spirit.” 



SERGE DIAlGHILEV 


152 

greatly after Valetchka had “seen no music” in Stravinsky’s VOiseau de 
Feu at a moment when Diaghilev was proclaiming Stravinsky’s genius 
from the housetops. It was an error from which his prestige never re- 
covered. 

In the early years of the ballet, N. N. Tcherepnine enjoyed a position 
of some importance. Serge Pavlovitch, in 1909, included this composer’s 
Pavilion d*Armide in his repertory, though it had already been pro- 
duced at the Mariinsky Theater, while in 1911 he also produced Tcherep- 
nine’s Narcisse, which had been specially composed for him. It was a 
short-lived collaboration, however, for shortly after, the talented though 
somewhat humdrum Tcherepnine was superseded by a composer of 
genius: one more modern, more suited to Diaghilev’s tastes — Stravinsky. 

Bakst and his estrangement from Diaghilev 

Throughout the whole of the early years of the Russian Ballet we find 
the painters associated with The World of Art, Bakst, Benois, Golovin, 
Korovin and Roehrich, playing an all-important part in it, and in par- 
ticular the two first-named, as is testified by the fact that I have been 
forced so often to refer to them when writing of Fokine and Nijinsky. 
I shall have to revert to them yet again in my next chapter, and shall 
therefore confine myself now to the main facts of their relation to 
Diaghilev. 

From 1909 to 1914 Bakst painted the scenery for twelve ballets, after 
which came a break owing to the war. But in 1917 their collaboration was 
resumed, though it proved but short-lived. Bakst provided the sets and 
costumes for Les Femmes de Bonne Humeur, and the following year set 
energetically to work on a new version of the same ballet, besides pre- 
paring La Boutique Fantasque, In a letter to Diaghilev, dated July i8th, 
1918, we find him saying: 

“Dear Seriozha, 

“Here is my new sketch, the second, and also as yet unpaid (the 
price is 2000 francs), for the Donne di bon umore* Although it disgusts 
me to produce tidy little houses, I make a concession to your need to 
curry your audience’s favor. But one thing only I implore you not to do: 
do not make the color of the sky any lighter, JEor that would ruin every- 
thing, because no concentration on the artists below it would be possible, 
and instead of Goldoni and Italy, as seen through Hogarth, we should 
have nothing but Werther and Massenet; in fact something that would 
just suit Gunsburg. Please remember this, and most important, that the 
public will instinctively have less liking for it. The scenery is unbeliev- 
ably simple, the houses pure Italian, though unfortunately I did them on 
the table where the sketch looks miles better than on the easel. Enfin! 
On the spectator’s left we have the Marquise’s ‘Piccolo Casino,’ then a 






FROM ”tHE world OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET 1 53 

sort of Hotel de Ville, ‘the Casa del Capitano’ as they were called, a 
typically Venetian mixture of 12th century romanesque and 14th century 
gothic, with an arch leading to a second inner square, out of which all the 
entrances into the street will be made. Next comes a typical i8th century 
tavern, with its doorway making a corner, over which there hangs the 
inn sign, visible from every part of the house, and very much finer than 
before. Then, at the back there comes a monastery wall and finally, at 
the right, that deaf devil Cecchetti’s ‘casino.’ The exits for the dancers are 
very simple, an opening into the inner square, and another into the 
tavern; nothing in fact could be simpler, but the monastery wall will have 
to disappear into the distance to fill up the space to the right. My advice 
would be not to make Cecchetti’s casino symmetrical with that of the 
Marquise’s, but to move it back a bit, so that only her casino really stands 
out. ... I am comfortably busy, working on the costumes for L.a Boutique 
Fantasque. It will be a very resurrection of Naples in 1858.” 

And while Bakst was resurrecting “Naples, 1858” ... at that very 
moment Derain, commissioned by Diaghilev, was preparing the scenery 
and costumes for the same ballet. Whereupon the two men quarreled, as 
they had done Heaven alone knows how often in the course of their 
twenty-five years’ friendship, though only to be reconciled later. 

In 1922, however, this ancient, tried and tested friendship did really 
end, for in that year Diaghilev produced The Sleeping Beauty, the sets 
for which were provided by Bakst. At the same time Bakst was at work 
on the scenery for Stravinsky’s Mavra. In spite of this, however, Diaghilev 
commissioned Survage to provide the same sets, and since Bakst had not 
even been paid for his work on The Sleeping Beauty, the two friends 
quarreled for good. In 1923 Bakst brought an action for the recovery 
of his fees, and obtained an injunction restraining the Ballet from the 
use of his scenery. 

It was a breach which profoundly aflEected Diaghilev, for though, 
where his artist’s ideals were involved, he would unhesitatingly remove 
his dearest friends from his path, their pride or feelings counting as 
nothing, any personal quarrel or dispute disturbed him greatly. This 
complete rupture was therefore a fearful blow. Indeed, it was felt equally 
by both, such was the underlying depth of their long friendship. Anony- 
mously, Bakst would send Diaghilev cuttings referring to that “genius 
Bakst” to recall to his friend the irreparable loss he had brought on 
himself, though indeed his absent friend was never far from Diaghdev’s 
mind. When, in London, in 1924, Serge Pavlovitch heard of his old 
friend’s death, I shall never forget the bitterness of his tears as he fell 
into Vassili’s arms, or his hysterical collapse at the Coliseum. I remember, 
too, how,' not long before Bakst’s death. Serge Pavlovitch sought to make 
his peace, and bowed as he saw him sitting at the Cafe de la Paix, and 
how Bakst ignored it. Never before had such an insult been oflEered 



SERGE DIAGHELEV 


154 

to his pride, he who till then had only met with indulgence, he who had 
always been forgiven. And now the proffered hand was rejected. So, 
too, it had been with Ravel, whom he had commissioned to compose 
La Valse, which he had then refused. Happening to meet, Ravel ignored 
him completely. 


Importance of Benois and Bakst 

It was no real quarrel or rupture which severed Diaghilev and Alex- 
ander Benois, but a certain divergence of views felt by each in regard 
to the aims of the Ballet. Though artistically in charge of the whole of 
the first Russian seasons, and, in spite of the triumphant success of Le Pa- 
vilion d*Armida and Les Sylphides (1909), Giselle (1910) and Petrouch\a 
(1911), Benois, from 1914 on, when he designed the sets for Stravinsky’s 
opera Rossi gnoh ceased altogether to paint for the ballet. Only ten years 
later, in 1924, did he paint the scenery for two operas, Le MSdecin malgre 
Lui and Philemon et Baucis, 

All these quarrels, divergences, and open ruptures, date, of course, from 
a period long after that of the early years of the Ballet, namely 1909, but 
these digressions have to some extent been inevitable. Before I return to 
that period, however, I shall allow myself yet another question, and ask 
whether, from 19 13-14 on, Bakst and Benois really appreciated the man- 
ner in which Diaghilev’s artistic tendencies were developing, tendencies 
they could have never approved, though often as not the results may even 
have disappointed Diaghilev himself. But, did diey realize that not for a 
moment was Diaghilev in any way seeking to minimize the achievement 
of the Ballet’s splendid beginnings, when Bakst and Benois played such 
outstanding parts in providing both decor and inspiration for some of its 
greatest productions.? 

The -first epoch of the Russian Ballet derived immediately and directly 
from The World of Art, being in fact only a fresh phase of it. But by 
1913-14 that phase had been so brilliantly lived through and expressed 
that nothing remained to be added to it. It was not so much that 
Diaghilev was now drawn towards new experiments, but that he was 
firmly resolved not to spoil a great artistic achievement by inferior repe- 
titions, and by recurrent self-limitations. In order to "be taken up living 
into the heavens,” Diaghilev, while determined to follow new paths, 
felt it his sacred duty to preserve inviolate, and to the very end of the 
Ballet’s existence, the immense artistic achievement it owed to Benois and 
Bakst. Thus, we find him, in 1929, reviving Bakst’s Schehirazade and 
Benois’ Petrouch\a. Indubitably, Bakst and Benois played an exceedingly 
important part in the early period of Diaghilev’s Ballet. Indeed, they 
greatly influenced the general and, at times, the main lines along which 
dancing developed. Fortunately they were not only great artists, but also 
men devoted to the theater. 



FROM ‘'the world OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET I55 

I should have been guilty o£ an important omission in my account of 
the preparations for the Paris season of 1909, and of the Russian Ballet 
in general, had I not mentioned the name of a once renowned dancer, 
at that moment the most reputed of dancing masters, and custodian of 
every academic tradition of the Ballet, the man who was mainly respon- 
sible for the actual performances. Maestro Enrico Cecchetti. Through 
Cecchetti, who had taught practically every outstanding dancer in the 
Russian Ballet, and who periodically continued to work with Diaghilev’s 
troupe, a Unk with the traditions of academic ballet, a link imm ensely 
valued by Diaghilev, was kept permanendy alive. 

The Kussian Ballet arrives in Paris 

As April, 1909, was ending, the Russian “barbarians” arrived in Paris, 
and at once set feverishly to work. Russian barbarians indeed! . . . for 
soon after their arrival that devoted admirer of Diaghilev and Russian 
art the Comtesse de GrefFuhle (together with Mme. Sert) gave a dinner 
at the Hotel Crillon for the Russian artists. Her heart sank, she told me, 
when she saw how drably provincial and uncultivated they seemed; 
almost she regretted having allowed herself to be so swept oflE her feet 
by Diaghiiev’s aristocratic and European charm as to believe all his 
wondrous tales of their capacides. But at the dress rehearsal of May i8th 
she fell completely under the sway of those “drab provincials” in whom 
she had been so disappointed, and once and for all became a firm be- 
liever in the “miracle of Russian art. . . .” 

Now work began at the Chitelet Theater, to a general background 
of fearful hammering and terrific uproar. Ill-adapted for performances 
such as those of the Russian Opera and Ballet, the Theater, because of its 
generally neglected appearance, provided a most unsatisfactory setting 
for productions where every detail was of account. The stage also proved 
too small, and the floor unsatis:fectory for dancing. However, by 
Diaghilev’s orders, it was replaced by a pine-wood floor, provided with 
a trap door for Armida’s couch, and the stage enlarged by extending the 
new floor to cover the space originally reserved for the orchestra. But now 
it became necessary to do away with five rows of stalls to make room for 
the musicians. Dissatisfied, however, with the look of the parterre 
Diaghilev had the remaining stalls replaced by boxes, the whole being 
covered with new velvet. After which plants were placed about, the cor- 
ridors redecorated, and the old Chdtelet began to assume quite a festive 
air. 

Amidst all this bustle of reconstruction, amid fearful sounds of ham- 
mering, sawing, and the deafening cries of workmen, rehearsals con- 
tinued, while Fokine shouted himself hoarse in vain efforts to be heard. 
So much needed to be done, and so little time remained before the 



1^6 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

premiere of May ipth, that the lunch hour was canceled^ and food was 
sent in from Larue’s. All day the company remained in the theater. 

Frantically, Diaghilev rushed hither and diither, torn between work- 
men, actors, painters, musicians and visitors, the latter mainly critics and 
journalists, who now began to arrive in ever greater numbers. W^hole 
columns appeared in the newspapers recording the doings of the com- 
pany, and these immensely stimulated public interest in the approaching 
opening night. Most assiduous of the visitors were Jean Cocteau, Jacques 
Emile Blanche, Vaudoyer, Reynaldo Hahn, Robert Brussel and Cal- 
vocoressi, all from the first stout friends of the Russian Ballet, and faithful 
supporters of Diaghilev and Russian art. Later, all these men, and in 
particular, Cocteau, wielded great influence in the Ballet, and did much 
to ensure the triumphant success of that first season of Opera and Ballet. 
Of the greatest importance, too, were the articles R. Brussel contributed to 
Le Figaro, for from the very first Russian season of 1906, he had become 
an enthusiastic admirer of our national art. As a result, he made the 
journey to Russia, and there became acquainted with Diaghilev. Xo his 
pen we owe one of the most important contributions to the history of 
Diaghilev’s life, an article published in the Revue Musicale, which in 
1930, issued a special number dedicated to Les Ballets Russes de Serge 
Diaghilev, In this article, entitled Avant la FSerie, Brussel very con- 
cisely states Diaghilev’s artistic problems; 

“What did he wish? Stated simply, these three things. To reveal Russia 
to itself, to reveal Russia to the world, to reveal the new world to itself. 
And that in the simplest, most direct and easiest manner, through paint- 
ing and music, and only later did he dare to say, ‘and through the dance.’ 

“What did he not wish? That Russia should be deemed something 
exotic, with nothing to offer Western eyes but the contrasts of some 
picturesque bazaar. Nothing exasperated him more. Indeed, he would 
almost rather have preferred to have its real beauty misprised, than to 
have them admired merely as something Eastern. There is not the least 
bit of an ‘Asiatic’ under the skin of a true Russian, except perhaps for 
the poet’s or musician’s daydreams of seeking the sun. Even authentic 
Russian relics of the past were for him almost so much bric-^-brac, good 
at best for some dead-and-alive museum. 

“This national pride and threefold aim inspired his every act, and 
explains both his aesthetic deviations, and his fluctuating ideals. 

“Better than most, he had realized that one must go forward break- 
neck, to make sure of not being out-distanced; that it was of the utmost 
importance to hurry forward. 

“He had, therefore, to move fast, and having recalled Russia to the 
Russians, and the new Russia to the world, to exchange his Russian 
clothing for clothing that was European, turn polyglot, dominate all 
discussion, and become the arbiter of the artistic destinies of two con- 



FROM “the world OF ART” TO THE RUSSIAN BALLET 1 57 

tincnts. The first version of the Sacre was profoundly pagan and Russian; 
the second, only by its motley of stage props ” 

No one could have expressed more concisely the very essence of 
Diaghilev’s artistic ideas. But it is the conclusion of this article which 
is of especial interest in revealing Diaghilev’s own dissatisfactions with 
the last epoch of the Russian Ballet. 

“‘One must move fast,* but life moved faster, and yet the ageing 
Diaghilcv was still demanding his way. And now I am sure, he was no 
longer certain which path to take. 

“The last time I saw him— we were lunching with V. F. Nouvel in a 
big restaurant— he asked me to act as mediator with a great musician 
whose collaboration he wanted, but whom he had somewhat neglected 
of late. This return to his old enthusiasms struck me. Once more, this 
man who had been a visionary and who now seemed to be walking like a 
somnambulist, was turning back to the ancient truths. He questioned 
me about what was being written, about the composers. As in the past, 
we began remembering old names, and evoking the phantoms of old 
ballets. 

“In passing I reminded him, in all iimocence I may say, of certain of 
his creations which had been hallowed by his sacred imprimatur, and 
about which we had each felt so differently. Whereupon the huge, sag- 
ging, worn and saddened face turned to me, the monocle was screwed 
into the lack-lustre eye, a bitter grimace twisted his lips, and he said: 
‘That’s enough of all that musiquettef and left me on that slashing retort. 
I was never to see him again.” 

Finally, after interminable preparation, endless fears and anxieties, the 
dress rehearsal of the first production took place, the program being Le 
Pavilion d^Armide, The Polovtsian Dances and Festin. 

All artistic Paris was present, and so enthusiastically were the ballets 
received that no doubt could possibly remain as to their future success 
with the Paris public. And indeed the performance proved a veritable 
triumph, a revelation, besides being the most important artistic event of 
the first decade of the twentieth century. 



CHAPTER tX 


THE FIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS 

1909: the great success of the first Festivals of Bjissian Art 

ON MAY 19th, 1909, the Russian Ballet made its debut at the CMtelet 
Theater /with a program including Le Pavilion d^Armidct Prince Igor 
(Scenes and Polovtsian Dances) and the dance-suite he Festin. The cast 
for each of these ballets was as follows: Pavilion d^Armide, Karsavina, 
Coralli, Baldina, Alexandra Feodorova, Smirnova, Dobroliubova, Nijin- 
sky, Mordkin, Bulgakov, Grigoriev and A. Petrov; for Prince Igor, 
Sharonov as Prince Igor, Petrenko as Konchakovna, Smirnov as Vladi- 
mir, Zaporozhetz as Kontchak, d’Ariel as Ovlur, Sofia Feodorova as a 
Polovtsian maiden, Smirnova as a slave, Kozlov, Kremnev, Leontiev, 
Noviko, Orlov and Rosay as Polovtsian youths, and Bolm as a warrior; 
for Le Festin, Karsavina, Fokine, Sofia and Olga Feodorova, Coralli, 
Baldina, Nijinska, Shollar, Smirnova, Dobroliubova, Nijinsky, Monakhov, 
Mordkin, Bolm, Kozlov, Novikov, Rosay, etc. 

In the memory of every spectator, this performance stands out as a 
veritable miracle of dancing, and the Comtesse de Noailles was to write 
twenty years later: 

“When I entered the box to which I had been invited, I arrived slightly 
late, not altogether believing in the revelation certain initiates had prom- 
ised me; but I realized at once that something miraculous was happening, 
that I was witnessing something absolutely unique. Everything that 
could strike the imagination, intoxicate, enchant, and win one over, 
seemed to have been assembled on that stage, to be luxuriating there as 
naturally, as beautifully, as vegetation responds to a beneficent climate.” 

Words cannot describe the reception given to this first night. Success ? 
Triumph? The words convey nothing of the exaltation, the religious 
fervor and ecstasy which took possession of the audience. “Success” or 
“triumph” may be appropriate in describing the reception according to 
some remarkable, unusual performance, better than most; but here no 
comparison was possible, for nothing like it had ever been seen. Sud- 
denly, unexpectedly, a new, marvelous and totally unknown world was 
revealed: a world, whose existence not one of these Parisian spectators 
had even suspected and which so intoxicated, so overwhelmed them that 
for a time all else was blotted out completely. A sort of psychosis, a mass 
delirium, seemed to sweep over the spectators which the Press re-echoed 
the following and many a succeeding day. 

158 



THE EIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS 1 59 

“The Elders o£ Troy,” wrote Reynaldo Hahn, “were content to accept 
all the horrors o£ war without a murmur, because theirs had been the 
joy o£ seeing Helen. So, I too, find consolation for what is happening 
round us, since I have seen Cleopdtra on the stage.” Not for a day, but 
for six weeks this frenzy continued unabated: six enchanted weeks in 
which opera and ballet alternated. The first miracle had come to pass 
on May 19th; it was succeeded by that of the 24th, when Rimsky^ 
Korsakov’s PsJ{pvitian\a, renamed Ivan the Terrible, was presented, and 
in which Chaliapin, Lydia Lipkovska, Petrenko, Pavlova, Kastorsky, 
Sharonov, Damaev, and Davidov aU appeared. The third miracle was the 
performance dedicated to the first act of Glinka’s Russian and Ludmila, 
in which Lipkovska, Zbrueva, Sharonov, Davidov, Kastorsky and Zaporo- 
zhetz appeared; the one-act rSoerie romantique entitled Les Sylphides, in 
which for the first time Paris audiences saw Anna Pavlova, side by side 
with Klarsavina and Nijinsky, and the dramatic ballet CUopdtra presented 
by Pavlova, Ida Rubinstein, Karsavina, Nijinsky, Fokine and Bulgakov. 
... In addition, an act from Serov’s Judith was given with Chaliapin and 
Felia Litvin. 

AU through these six weeks, both audiences and artists seemed to be 
living in an atmosphere not of this world, an atmosphere and existence 
which Diaghilev himself described “as though enchanted in the gardens 
of Armida, The very air round us seems as though it were drugged.” 

Even a quarter of a century later,^e find Jean Cocteau writing; “The 
red curtain rises on performances instinct with such joy that they wiU 
revolutionize France, and ecstatic crowds wiU follow the chariot of 
Dionysos.” 

Even as recently as September, 1938, i.e., thirty years after, we find 
the Academician, Louis Gillet, remembering the performances. 

“The Russian BaUets mark one of the great epochs in my life. I am 
speaking of those first, veritable and memorable productions of 1909-1912. 
Those Russians! How explain the conviction their mirages created? 

“The advent of the 'BaUet Russe’ was an event in the truest sense of 
the word, a shock of surprise, a whirlwind, a new impact. . . . 
Schihirazadel Prince Igorl UOiseau de Feu! Le Lac des Cygnesl Le 
Spectre de la Rose! In a word, I may say without exaggeration that my 
life is split into two epochs; before and after the Russian Ballet! All our 
ideas underwent a change. It was as though the scales had fallen from 
our eyes.” 


Critics, Russian and French 

Thus, without the slightest hesitation, Paris took this revelation to its 
bosom, and welcomed it as a portent of the new era. As the excitement 
faded, attempts at a critical evaluation began to appear. But there were 
no bounds to the enthusiasm accorded to Benois’ scenery and costumes for 



1^0 SERGE DIAGHDLEV 

Les Sylphides and Le Pavilion d’Armide, Bakst’s ClSopdtra, Roehrich’s 
Prince Igor, Korovin’s Le Festin and Golovin’s Ps\ovitian\a. This, 
however, was due not so much to the decorative effect — even though 
Bakst’s orgies of color created almost a furore — ^as to the new vision they 
manifested of the art of the stage. 

But, indeed, how could the public, the critics, have reacted otherwise, 
since, for the first time in the history of the stage, the sets were painted 
by artists of distinction instead of by the usual hack scene-painter? Fur- 
ther a mortal blow was dealt to the time-honored principles of stage 
perspective, whose sovereignty now at last began to be disputed. Thence- 
forth, its place was to be taken by that riot of color, that feast of 
the senses, which the spectator seeks in the theater, since he cannot find 
it in life. 

“It was almost a sense of stupefaction that now took possession of the 
audience,” we find A. Warned writing, “and even before the actual danc- 
ing began, the design on the curtain, the first bars of the music, had 
already created the propitious atmosphere. 

“The sets for Le Pavilion d'Armide were the work of Benois, and 
wonderfully they evoked the magnificence of that great age, miracu- 
lously designed to dazzle eyes accustomed to Versailles. As for Bakst, 
we saw his genius in all its brightness in ClSopdtra, when the huge lapis 
lazuli carpet was little by little buried beneath roses, flung into the air 
by slaves clad in topaz and emerald. 

“It was Egypt revealed under an entirely new aspect; but it was also 
the East, Russia; it was a trifle, and yet it was everything; something 
immense and infinitely moving, as much in itself as in its novelty. It was 
impossible not to be moved by such a revelation. Some acclaimed it a 
miracle, others pure barbarism — ^but all without exception were deeply, 
profoundly moved by it, 

“But of course it must be borne in mind to what our public had grown 
accustomed. ... A dinginess, a half-light, a vagueness, and the malaise of 
twilight, was the stage’s highest achievement, and PellSas et MSlisande its 
pinnacle; mustiness, melancholy, listlessness and dim color, delighted the 
most exacting, while no one spoke with more authority than Gambon, 
lord of the scene-painting of the Op6ra Comique. 

“It is easy enough to imagine, therefore, the impact on all this flabby 
sweetness, these papier -machd stage-props, of the sets brought by the 
Russians. They were a rock dropped into a puddle; a bullet fired at a 
mirror.” 

Thus, by way of the Ballet’s d&ors the Parisian public came to admire 
the Russian Ballet, and indeed these decors were undubitably its most 
original feature. But the artists too were incomparable, and Pavlova, 
Karsavina, Rubinstein (as Cleopitra), Nijinsky and Chaliapin all soon 
had their devotees. Mme, de Noailles, for instance, says of Nijinsky: 




Les Sylphides, 1909 




THE FIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS t 6 i 

“That angelj genius, triumphant god of the performance and divinest 
of dancers, Nijinsky, took possession of our souls, till our hearts over- 
flowed with love, while the suave, the harsh sonorities of the Asiatic 
music, enveloped us ever more deeply, lulling us into a stupor. 

“Whoever has once seen Nijinsky dance, must forever feel the poorer 
by his absence, and cannot but ponder upon that overwhelming departure 
of his towards those infernal regions of melancholy madness where he 
now lives: he, whose corporeal body dwelt in space, unaided, unsup- 
ported, and as has been so picturesquely said, as though painted on the 
ceiling. Those who never saw him wiU never know what youth may mean 
in all the intoxication of its rhythmic strength, or the terror that lies in 
steely muscles, a fear akin to that felt by some child alone in the fields, 
when it sees the grasshopper shoot upwards on its long limbs of steel.” 

Nijinsky’s impact upon the Parisian public was all the more startling, 
in that they had, as it were, almost forgotten that there could be such 
a thing as male dancing, that one might find delight not only in the 
grace of the ballerina’s art, but in the “elevation,” the divine inspiration 
of the male dancer. Yet besides the genius Nijinsky, the Russian Ballet 
numbered several outstanding dancers, among them Bohn, Rosay, Mord- 
kin, Monakhov and Bulgakov. 

Of the ballerinas, Karsavina and Pavlova were soon prime favorites 
with the public. When, for instance, Karsavina and Nijinsky appeared 
together, veritable dithyrambs would be chanted in their praise, for how 
else can be described notes such as this, by R, Brussel in the pages of 
L-e Figaro? 

“Karsavina’s beauty is perfect, incomparable: substance itself seems be- 
wildered at being the adorable veil of so much grace. 

“She remembers the Lac des Cygnes when, with such exquisite slow- 
ness her neck delicately droops. And when the dark, dark eyes open in 
the dead whiteness of her face, how delicious is the vision of poetry and 
grace she evokes.” Or again: 

“Long ago in the past, orphic hymns sang her praises twixt the ‘per- 
fume of the clouds,* which is myrrh, and the ‘perfume of Aphrodite’ for 
which there is no name. And when she droops it is only under the weight 
of all her inefiEable grace.” 

So, too, praises were sung of the corps de ballet which, traditionally 
static, had now become as it were a single being, with its own organic 
part in the ballet, and its own psychological justification. Thus, we find 
M. Henri Gheon, in 1910, writing in La 'Nouvelle Reime Frangaise, “No 
longer is the ballet a mere setting for some star, for the reign of the 
star is ended like that of the tenor. To do true justice to the Russian 
company, one should avoid making the slightest individual reference, 
for collective result by far- outweighs the sum of the individual talents 
which compose it. Its supreme quality is that of seeming indivisible, of 
being one with the work it represents, even to the point of seeming to 



1 62 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

issue from the very music itself before melting back into the colors of 
the settings.” 

Thus, painting (the sets and costumes) and the dancers (ballerinas, 
dancers and corps de ballet), sublimely united, absorbed the interest of 
the public. Therewith, however, went a new-born enthusiasm for Russian 
music: an enthusiasm which finally was to establish the empire of that 
Russian music which Diaghilev had done so much to familiarize in the 
past two years, and to which the excellence of his conductor E. R. Kuper 
— ^it must be said — ^largely contributed. Names such as Glinka, Tchaikov- 
sky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Glazunov, were to be 
heard on every lip. But not all criticism was enthusiastic, for we find J. 
Tugendhold writing of Le Festin “conveying a painful impression as of 
some Court entertainment, though certain features cannot be denied a 
very real interest.” On the other hand, V. Svetlov claims that “the Paris 
public and critics have been deeply interested in the artistry and en- 
semble of the production.” JLe Festin was put together from Rimsky- 
Korsakov’s march in Le Coq d’Or, Glinka’s Lesgin\a, Tchaikovsky’s 
Bird, Glazunov’s Czardas, and the finale from the second symphony by 
Tchaikovsky. 

Much less understood and appreciated was the choreography of the 
Russian Ballet, and the Press found little to say of this aspect. No doubt 
the reasons were many, but clearly the spectators, as well as the critics, 
were so carried away by the beauty of the spectacle, the excellence of the 
performers, and the enchantment of the music, that they did not realize 
the extent to which the beauty of the dance pattern contributed to the 
perfection of what they were seeing. But further, so low had the French 
Ballet sunk by the beginning of the twentieth century, that ballet criticism 
had become a lost art. There was a complete dearth of really com- 
petent choreographic criticism. Since, however, no self-respecting news- 
paper could afford to ignore something to which all Paris was flocking, 
the Press was forced to resort to what was said by the Russian Ballet 
critics, material which it then adapted to its own use, and, heaven knows, 
“inspired” was the last word which could be applied to it. Again, and 
this was the more usual practice, they would seek the opinions of painters, 
and particularly, musicians, who, naturally, gazed at the ballet through 
their own spectacles. And here it may be said that it is just this very 
approach which continues to prevail even to our day, so that all too fre- 
quently ballets, though conceived in terms of dancing, are, alas! valued 
,only for their music. 

Now that twenty years of Russian Ballet have brought about a rebirth 
in the French Ballet, which today may justifiably claim a world-wide 
pre-eminence, it is di£6cult to picture to oneself the decay of dancing in 
France some thirty years ago. In those days the ballet was treated as a 
survival from some dim past; meaningless and sterile, it seemed to have 
abandoned all hope of resuscitation. Thus, although the public responded 



THE FIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS 1 63 

with particular enthusiasm to the Russians, their appeal lay, it was said, 
in their barbaric, exotic and other qualities hardly to be found in a 
civilized community. No one could object to crowning it with laurels, 
for the national pride was in no way involved. However, in 1911, we 
^d a salutary change beginning to take place. 

And indeed what could be more characteristic than these two articles, 
from the hands of Abel Bonnard and Marcel Prevost, both written in 
1910,? 

Says the former: “Really, we no longer know what dancing is. We 
are not savage enough. As a community, we arc too civilized, too pol- 
ished, too prone to self-effacement. We have lost the knowledge of how 
to express feeling with the whole of our bodies: why, we are almost 
afraid to let it transpire in our features, or in the words we utter, so 
that aU that remains is for it to seek refuge in our eyes. Our very gestures 
have become impoverished, restricted, tight, and fall from us like branches 
from lopped trees. We all live in our heads. Our bodies, so to speak, have 
been abandoned and we no longer exist in them: they have become, as 
it were, impoverished and foreign to us, and have lost that palpitating 
sincerity which makes savages and the beasts of the wild so magnificent 
in our eyes. Thus it is only too comprehensible that that art which lives 
by reproducing man, sculpture, should be fading away at the same rate. 

“Think then, how great must be one’s joy at recapturing through this 
dancing, all the bewildering modalities of the human body and its rich- 
ness of gesture, for no longer do we find ourselves merely gazing at 
those drear gymnastics, so characteristic of our ballerinas. Here, once 
more, in the vivacity of this miming, we see feeling expressed, not 
merely upon the narrow stage of the features, but as a living force from 
the crown of the head to the toes, and so molding the material it inspires 
that, for an instant, the whole body is joy or sadness to the very tips 
of the fingers; a clear hieroglyph of rage, hatred or desire.” 

The attitude expressed by Marcel Prevost is very similar: 

“What reassurance such a renaissance conveys to the ancient lovers 
of this delightful art, childlike and venerable both, rare dilettanti, their 
ranks cruelly thinned by death, now standing on the threshold of the 
20th century. One of these, as we left the theater yesterday, after seeing 
Scheherazade bore witness to his happiness, his enthusiasm, in moving 
lyrical terms. He was ready to chant his "Nunc Dimittis: yet he was leav- 
ing an Opera House in which the Slite of the city had acclaimed a ballet. 

“‘After so long an eclipse,’ he cried, tears of joy on his lashes, ‘the 
dance will once more reign over Paris.’ 

“Old balletomane, my friend, do not rejoice too soon. I see indeed 
that the ‘Russian Season’ in Paris is enjoying a brilliant success. But to 
collect such a company would be impossible in Paris. It could not be got 
together in any democratic country. 

“For, in the first place, who would form these young priestesses of the 



1 64 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

dance^ needing as they do a hundred times the care, the growth, the 
flowering that some rare orchid, some exquisite chrysanthemum de- 
mands ? Yes, I know. . . . Ballerinas too are trained in Paris. . . . And we 
applaud them when we see them in our Opera House. No matter! The 
truth is, that among us, this most moving o£ all arts, in which the female 
body is both the substance and the instrument, is utterly decadent. Yet 
how many neophytes devote themselves seriously to study in hopes of 
winning fame, fortune and glory. . . ? Yes, our little French girls would 
need the most imperious of vocations to win through. How little our 
usual ballets compel the interest of real lovers of dancing! A sort of 
convention, a free and easy relation, has been established between the 
artists and the public. Priestesses without faith run through their outworn 
rites in front of skeptical, inattentive devotees. 

“The pleasure which, this season, has been given to us by the Rus- 
sian dancers, is therefore exclusively a pleasure for the happy few. We 
are incapable of preparing it for ourselves. They have come from afar 
expressly for our delight, and some few of us relish their archaic and 
subde flavor; but the crowds that rush to the music halls will not follow 
us there. . . . Old devotee, my friend, do not therefore shed pious tears 
of joy over the renaissance of your cherished art: this art is dead among 
us, utterly dead, and nothing will ever resuscitate it. ...Let us content 
ourselves with applauding it, and delighting when it is here. A courtly 
pleasure, a royal entertainment, let us reserve for the dance the welcome 
Paris reserves for queens.” 

During the seasons of 1910-1911, however, the Paris critics began to 
manifest a greater competence where choreography was concerned, and 
did not hesitate to express a qualified enthusiasm for Les Sylphides, 
very different from the triumph accorded to both Prince Igor and CUo- 
pdtra. This, it is true, might have been expected, for Les Sylphides was 
conceived in a European and romantic manner, to music by Chopin, 
with which all were familiar, by a Russian chore-author, whose vision 
of the “romantic movement” differed greatly from that of his European 
compeers, much to the confusion of Paris audiences. The same phenome- 
non took place a year later with Schumann’s Carnaval. But what, in 
fact, were the critics expecting of the Russian Ballet? Only that it should 
be exotic, an exoticism admirably represented by the whirling dances 
and bacchanalian color of Prince Igor and Le Festin. For the same rea- 
sons, Le Pavilion d'Armide was only moderately well received, if we 
except the pictorial side of the ballet and the fame of the dancers, since 
there was but little which was typically Russian in either the music or 
dances, and Fokine was still clinging to the traditions of the academic 
ballet. 

If the French Press, however, gave but little space to choreography, 
because the music and decorative aspects of the Ballet forced the choreog- 
raphy into the background and because critics of choreography were 



THE FIRST RUSSIAlSr SEASONS l6s 

lacking, anotiier reason also existed, and one inherent in the Ballet, 
namely, the apparent absence o£ any unifying trend. For this Fokine’s 
choreography must be held responsible, since all the onlooker saw were 
widely diverging trends, ranging from a divertissement, Festin, through 
a dance poem, Les Sylphides, and a full ballet, conceived almost in Petipa’s 
tradition, Le Pavilion d*Armide, to the exaltation and bacchanalian riot 
of Prince Igor and the dramatic action of CUopdtra — and from which, 
taken as an ensemble, no clear indication of the young chore-author’s 
creative abilities could be gathered. The permanent critic of the Russian 
Ballet, himself a member of its unofEcial artistic committee, V. Svetlov, 
did indeed make some attempt to expound Fokine’s choreography, but 
even this sworn ballet critic’s appreciations reveal themselves as inad- 
equate and vague. Though admitting certain defects in Ijc Pavilion 
d’ Armide, he limits himself to the statement that it represents “a transi- 
tional step in Fokine’s creative progress from the old forms to the new.” 
His remarks on the magnificent dance scene, it can hardly be called a 
ballet, in Prince Igor, seem somewhat more to the point, but once he has 
praised the Polovtsian Dances, which, in his words, “had become the 
talk of all artistic Paris, and proved a veritable eye opener to the painters, 
artists and impresarios as to the quality of our choreographic art,” Svet- 
lov abstains from proceeding further, and contents himself with saying 
that “Fokine has even managed to establish a choreographic design for 
the counterpoint of Borodin’s score.” 

In another place, this chronicler of the Russian Ballet affirms that Les 
Sylphides and ClSopdtra are, as it were, the “twin poles of choreography.” 
The first for him was a “white ballet,” a “memory of Taglioni,” “pure 
and aerial classicism” : whereas CUopdtra represents “a break with all the 
old tradition.” 

** CUopdtra^* he wrote, “is an overturning of all the old standards, a 
negation of classical technique, of traditional canons. ClSopdtra is the 
‘new factor,’ a vitally interesting excursus into the realms of archaeologi- 
cal iconography and ethnographical dancing.” 

This phrase “archaeological iconography” seems admirably appropriate. 
The inspiration for this ballet did indeed issue from such a source, and 
for that very reason Bakst’s part in it was all important. This critic of 
the Russian Ballet is entirely justified in speaking of the “twin poles of 
choreography” represented by Fokine’s ballets. All that it was necessary 
to add, was the fact that these poles are a permanent characteristic of 
all Fokine’s work, which, turn and turn about, accepted and rejected the 
“classic” tradition of the Ballet. 

Preparations for the 1910 season 

This first season had proved immensely successful, and as a result the 
fame of the Ballet spread far beyond the confines of Paris, proof being 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


1 66 

the offers which flooded in on the leading dancers from all parts of the 
world. London was eager to have Pavlova, Karsavina, Rosay, and Schol- 
lar, America was eager for Pavlova, Karsavina and Fokine, and Italy 
too made tempting offers to the latter. 

The season ended, Diaghilev returned to St. Petersburg and set about 
preparing his next season, that of 1910. It was a task of peculiar difficulty, 
for the immense success of the last made it incumbent on him not only to 
ensure the maintenance of the same high standard, but even to see it 
surpassed. Again, there was the question of finance: but this was satis- 
factorily dealt with by including Baron Dmitri Gunsburg as co-director. 
It proved an admirable choice, and such was the latter’s faith in Diaghilev, 
that Serge Pavlovitch was left with entire freedom of action, while he 
himself limited his activities to producing his checkbook as occasion de- 
manded, an operation that needed to be frequently repeated, for in 
spite of often very considerable takings, swollen by packed houses and 
increased prices, Diaghilev’s wildly expensive productions always outran 
his budget. In his passion to present the world with magnificent pro- 
ductions, Diaghilev neglected all other considerations. It was his one 
problem, and no other could make the least impression upon him. A 
perfect friendship united the two men, save for a period between 1913 
and 1914, when Diaghilev, who deemed the Baron in part responsible for 
Nijinsky’s marriage, was anxious to oust him from the company, though 
it was found impossible owing to the Ballet’s financial obligations. The 
war interrupted Gunsburg’s connection with the ballet, and he perished 
in 1919, in Russia, during the civil war. 

Thus we find Diaghilev actively engaged in trying to strengthen his 
troupe, and successfully enrolling Lydia Lopokova from the Mariinsky 
Theater, the Muscovite diva Ekaterina Geltzer, prima ballerina to the 
Imperial Grand Theater, and the male dancer Volinin. But the painters, 
as before, were Bakst, Golovin and Benois, for their worth had been 
proved, and Serge Pavlovitch owed much of his success to their efforts. 
Meanwhile a new conductor was engaged, in the person of Gabriel 
Pierne. What, however, absorbed Diaghilev’s greatest efforts was the 
choice of his forthcoming programs, and the infinity of detail neces- 
sitated by that choice. In the upshot we see the strong opposition of two 
distinct tendencies in Diaghilev’s mind: on the one hand, a constant urge 
towards the classic ballet of the past; on the other, a modernistic and 
even iconoclastic trend. Thus, we find him wishing to render unto 
Paris, that which France had herself created and long forgotten, though 
still preserved inviolate in Russia. But, at the same time, he wished to 
repeat the great success enjoyed by The Polovtsian Dances, the Russian 
Ballet’s most recent creation. 

No ballet, therefore, seemed more appropriate to the first of these aims, 
than Giselle, Diaghilev’s best-loved ballet, which, for one reason or an- 
other, had not been ready in time for the previous season. Accordingly 




Pavlova, by Serov, 1909 Karsavina, by Jean Cocteau, 1911 



THE FIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS 1 67 

it was arranged that Pavlova, incomparable in the part, should dance in 
it, with Nijinsky as her partner. As it happened, however, Pavlova broke 
her contract, and Giselle was danced by Karsavina. 

A second ballet in the classical tradition was foufid in a work but 
lately produced by Fokine for the ball held by the review Satiricon — 
Schumann’s Carnaval. Moved to enthusiasm, Diaghilev arranged to in- 
clude it in his 1910 program. 

More difficult to discover, however, was a ballet that should be both 
Russian and original, and next to find an appropriate score for it. A 
choice had already been made of Scheherazade, to a slightly altered score 
of Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic poem of that name. Thematically, how- 
ever, this music had never been intended for dancing, and in addition 
the story itself differed considerably from that of the proposed ballet. 
Contemplated also was another ballet, UOiseau de Feu, for which it was 
necessary to find music of a purely Russian nature, and consequendy 
an appropriate composer. Whereupon Diaghilev appealed to A. K. Liadov 
the composer of Baba-Yaga and a well-known collector of Russian folk 
songs. Liadov’s capacity for procrastination, unfortunately, was almost 
mythical, with the result that, when Benois, three months after he had 
accepted the commission, asked casually how the music was progressing, 
Liadov replied with the utmost simplicity: 

“Oh, excellendy. I’ve already bought the music-paper. . . .” 

Some other composer had therefore to be found. Luckily Serge Pavlo- 
vitch already knew what he wanted, for, during a pupils’ concert in 
the Conservatoire at St. Petersburg, he had heard a short symphonic 
poem by a youthful musician composed in honor of his professor’s^ 
daughter, by which Diaghilev had been gready impressed. This work 
was entided Feu d* Artifice, and the composer’s name was Igor Stravinsky. 
Solely on the strength of this work, Diaghilev was convinced — ^and 
throughout his life would boast of the fact — that Igor Stravinsky was 
indubitably a genius, and the future leader of modern music. This event 
took place in 1909, and there and then Diaghilev commissioned Stravin- 
sky to orchestrate two excerpts from JLes Sylphides, after which he com^ 
missioned the score of UOiseau de Feu. In Stravinsky, he recognized a 
new trend in Russian music, original and contemporary — ^the absolute 
subordination to rhythm of the broad mdody that was essentially char- 
acteristic of his predecessors, the “Big Five.” 

Nevertheless it does not appear that Diaghilev asked himself whether 
this new rhythmic form would prove appropriate to dancing. Had he 
done so we may feel sure that dancing would willingly have been sacri- 
ficed to music, for what mattered to him and those aljout him was the 
intrinsic quality of the music rather than its greater or less suitability 
to the dance. It must also be remembered that dancing was then being 
subordinated more and more to music, and that chore-authors had begun 

^N. Rimsky-Korsakov. 



1 68 SERGE DIAGMIEEV 

to claim an ability to make their dancers render no matter what score, 
provided the music was o£ good enough quality. 

R. Brussel tells how, visiting St. Petersburg in 1909, he was invited by 
Diaghilev to come and hear a new and unperformed ballet read by a 
young friend of his, the composer. 

“At the appointed hour, we all met in the little ground-floor room on 
Zamiatine Pereulok, which saw the beginnings of so many magnificent 
productions. 

“The author, young, slim, and uncommunicative, with vague medita- 
tive eyes, and lips set firm in an energetic-looking face, was at the piano. 
But the moment he began to play, the modest and dimly lit dwelling 
glowed with a dazzling radiance. By the end of the first scene, I was 
conquered; by the last, I was lost in admiration. The manuscript on the 
music rest, scored over with fine pencilings, revealed a masterpiece. The 
musician was Igor Stravinsky, the ballet UOiseau de Feu, 

“And now Diaghilev possessed the talisman able to open all those 
secret doors which hid and closed the future. The influence he wished 
to wield, the battle he was determined to wage was now his to choose 
or renounce, for the predestined being had entered his life.” 

Igor Stravinsky and the Ballet 

Thus, with Stravinsky, a new force entered Diaghilev's creative exist- 
ence, and a man with whom the fate of the Russian Ballet was hence- 
forth inexorably to be linked. Diaghilev had not the slightest doubt of 
Stravinsky’s genius, and did all in his power to gain it world-wide ac- 
ceptance. His whole life bore testimony to this single conviction. Stravin- 
sky’s name on a score so vouched for its excellence in his eyes, that 
even when he felt it to be quite unsuitable, as in the case of the oratorio 
Oedipus Rex, in 1927, or disUked it frankly, he would not hesitate to 
present it, or to consider he lacked understanding. It was impossible, and 
that he was convinced of, for Stravinsky to write anything unworthy 
of himself. Only, it must be added that, towards the end of his life, 
Diaghilev began to doubt whether all Stravinsky’s work revealed the 
same genius. 

A lasting friendship united the two men, echoes of which we find in 
Stravinsky’s Chronicle of My Life, Stravinsky had the highest admira- 
tion for his friend, an admiration all the more genuine in that it had 
not the faintest tinge of sycophancy. Stravinsky worked intimately with 
Diaghilev over a considerable period. For men of such dissimilar tempera- 
ments their collaboration was astonishingly harmonious. That is not to 
say that they did not have disagreements. Once he had determined on a 
course of action, Diaghilev would pursue it with a strength and persever- 
ance that was almost frightening. To maintain against him a difference 
of opinion, even on matters of detail, was to provoke violent resistance. 



THE EmST RUSSIAN SEASONS 1 65 

But whatever the disagreements on questions of means, the collaborator 
had always the consolation, that once preliminary difficulties were set- 
tled, the common end was certain to be achieved. 

Stravinsky admired Diaghilev*s pertinacity; he admired no less his 
astonishing flair. Diaghilev was capable, he admits, of the most exact 
rational thinking. But that was not his natural medium. What he 
valued most highly was freshness and originality. These qualities, 
wherever he found them — and he could find them in the most unlikely 
places — ^would excite him to unreasoning enthusiasm. Sometimes, of 
course, his passionate temperament would lead him to disaster. But his 
intuitive judgment was seldom at fault, and once his decision was made, 
nothing could prevent its fulfilment. 

Such were the main features of Diaghilev as Stravinsky saw them. But 
there was nothing in Diaghilev that was not characteristic. Like many 
others who came into close contact with him, Stravinsky was struck by 
the strange streak of ingenuousness in Diaghilev’s character. Being him- 
self highly competent— shrewd almost — ^in practical matters, Diaghilev 
could not tolerate inefficiency in others. He was horrified by ignorance 
of the world. He never seemed to resent, even in those nearest to him, 
what can only be described as doubtful honesty, provided he found in 
them other compensating qualities. Even when he was himself the victim, 
he would display no indignation, but remark, ingenuously, “Well, what 
of it? He*s looking after himself.” 

in the twenty years of its existence, the Russian Ballet presented eight 
ballets to music by Stravinsky: UOiscau de Feu, PetrouchJ^a, L.e Sacre du 
Printemps, Lc Chant du Rossignol, Pulcinella (Pcrgolesi-Stravinsky), Ltf 
Renard, Les Noces, Apollon Musag^te, in addition to two operas, Mavra 
and Rossignol, an oratorio, Oedipus Rex, and a symphonic tableau. Feu 
d* Artifice. Incontestibly, Stravinsky was one of the main driving forces 
of the ballet and in the years 1910 to 1913 exerted as much influence upon 
it, as did its other art directors, Bakst and Benois. As they, by their 
painting, decided the nature, and often the very design of the dancing, 
so Stravinsky, with his scores, mapped the outlines of the dance pattern, 
and so determined the character of the whole ballet. The ballet was thus 
compelled to illustrate the music, and the ballet master, obliged to en- 
gage in a perpetual struggle with often insurmountable difficulties, had no 
alternative but to abandon his own conceptions, and frequently “fake” 
the dancing-Herc is what I myself have written in my book. Ballet, Tra- 
ditional to Modern: “M. Stravinsky’s music, richly and fundamentally 
rhythmic, was by a curious misunderstanding, taken for dance music. 
Not everything rhythmic is necessarily danceable, not all that makes our 
muscles contract is necessarily dancing. I shall even go further — ^nothing 
is more opposed to dancing than M. Stravinsky’s music of the first period 
with the exception of Petrouch\a, in which popular dance music is 
largely used, and that is because of its non-dancing rhythms and above all 



170 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

on account of its changes of rhythm, truly opposed to dancing A score 

by M. Stravinsky enfeebles dancing and weighs it down, and enslaves it 
rather than serves to embellish it; on the other hand dancing never en- 
hances M. Stravinsky’s music, as it does that of Weber or Adam. Stravin- 
sky’s music is so beautiful in itself that it is all suflScient: it has no need 
of any dancing addition, and dancing only serves to distract the listener’s 
attention: here we touch on an important point — ^Why are the best ballets 
never those arranged to the most beautiful music?” ^ 

To this we may add that the terre-a-terre quality which in time became 
so characteristic of Diaghilev’s ballets was, to a considerable degree, the 
result of its association with Stravinsky’s music and, in particular, with 
that especial favorite of Diaghilev’s Sacre du Przntemps. 

Stravinsky himself was always at odds with the chore-authors for over- 
loading their ballets with dances. In UOiseau de Feu — and his criticism 
in this case is typical of his general attitude — ^he felt that Fokine’s choreog- 
raphy was so elaborate, so burdened with details of movement and pose, 
that it was impossible for the artists to co-ordinate properly dance and 
music. It is important not to misrepresent Stravinsky’s argument. He is 
far from arrogating to himself chief credit for the success of UOiseau de 
Feu, He does not underrate the part played by Golovin’s decors and by 
the dancers themselves. Above all he does not deny the importance of 
the choreography; for Fokine as a choreographer he had indeed the high- 
est respect. What he deplored was an unharmonic relation between the 
pas of the dance and the measures of the music. 

In a sense, Stravinsky is perfectly right, for to avoid “this unpleasant 
discordance between the movements of the dance and the imperative 
demands which the music imposed” it was necessary to reduce all gesture 
to a minimum and not, as he states, overburden the ballet with it. 

But, needless to say, no choreographer could agree to such an impov- 
erishment of the ballet. 

Stravinsky and TOiaghilev 

With 1914, however, the connection between Stravinsky and the Rus- 
sian Ballet for a time ceased, and no new contribution was made by 
him. Some indication that all was not well between Diaghilev and the 
latter, reaches us through Romola Nijinsky’s book on her husband, in 
the part which deals with their halt at Lausanne on their way to 
America : 

“He [Stravinsky] spoke to Vaslav for hours of his plans, his composi- 
tions, the ideas of Diaghilev, his injustices: the torrent of his words never 
seemed to stop. He tried to assure himseh he was independent of him. 

“I’m a composer, and sooner or later people will realize the value of 
my music. Of course. Serge Pavlovitch is a great help, and especially now 

2 Lifar. Ballet, Traditional to Modem, p. i68. 



THE FIRST RUSSIAlSr SEASONS I/I 

that the war is on. In Russia, anyhow, it is impossible to be played when 
one has modern ideas. He can’t crush me.* 

“One evening he came to us in a frightful temper. This time Diaghilev 
really had played him a dirty trick. It was arranged that as soon as Serge 
Pavlovitch arrived in New York, he should arrange that an official in- 
vitation should be extended to Stravinsky, who was to go and conduct 
his own ballets at the Metropolitan. This would be an appropriate occa- 
sion to present himself to the American pubHc. But as soon as in New 
York, Serge Pavlovitch forgot his promise.® Naturally Stravinsky was 
hurt at this lack of attention. He insisted that if Vaslav was a real friend, 
he would make it a condition to go to America only if Stravinsky was 
asked also. I thought this was rather stretching the boxmds of friendship. 
Stravinsky talked, raged, and cried: he paced up and down the room, 
cursing Diaghilev. 

“*He thinks he is the Russian Ballet himself. Our success went to his 
head. What would he be without us, without Bakst, Benois, you and my- 
self.? Vaslav, I count upon you.’ 

Stravinsky’s “real friend,” however, left without him, and later we find 
Vaslav’s “real friend” in his Chronicle of My Life writing of his friend 
in a way no one could consider even friendly or well meaning. . . . 

Nevertheless, in 1920, Stravinsky once more returned to the Ballet, 
though only for a period of three years. Then, in 1923 (with the single, 
though fortunate, exception of Apollon Musaghe — 1928) we find him 
fin all y repudiating the ballet, his religious convictions no longer permit- 
ting Hina to employ his art in anything so base as theatrical ballet. (Indeed 
a letter to Diaghilev at this time speaks of the ballet as **Vanathhne du 
Christ”') Thus, Diaghilev felt it the more bitterly, when he learned that 
Stravinsky had “taken service under Ida Rubinstein” in her competing 
ballet. 

In the course of time, a close friendship had grown up between the two 
men, and it was only towards the very end that their friendship was 
troubled. The misunderstandings began with the rehearsals for Apollon, 
Serge Pavlovitch considering the “Terpsichore Variation” far too long, 
tedious, and generally imsatisfactory. He therefore advised Stravinsky, 
either to omit it completely, or to make a number of cuts; but these 
suggestions the latter repudiated completely. Diaghilev then, on his own 
initiative, had the variation omitted at the second performance, on the 
pretext of the ballerina’s indisposition. 

“But of course it will be put back at the third performance?” To 
which, Diaghilev somewhat vaguely replied, “Of course, of course.” The 
“of course” however failed to materialize, and a somewhat amusing epi- 
sode resulted, for the “audience” then protested. Since I was dancing the 
part of Apollo, and knew that the variation was being omitted, I had 

3 Actually lie had not forgotten, he did his best but without success. 

^ Romola Nijinsky. Nijinsky, pp- 307-9. 



172 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

left my pedestal, and was preparing to dance, when three scattered voices 
in the audience began shouting: 

**Variatton de Terpsichore! VariationV* 

It was the musician’s relatives voicing the “general” protest! . . . 

After the production of Apollon in London, Diaghilev organized a 
gala performance in Stravinsky’s honor, consisting entirely of ballets to 
the latter’s music, at which, in the name of all, a crown of bays was 
presented to him. This, however, was to prove his last act of homage to 
his friend. 

Apollon had always meant very much to Serge Pavlovitch, who, in the 
course of time, had come to consider it the property of the Russian Bal- 
let, and so it greatly annoyed and distressed him when rumors began to 
be heard that Stravinsky was offering the work to Ida Rubinstein for her 
own ballet. 

As a result Diaghilev asked Stravinsky directly whether there was any 
truth in, the rumors that he had suggested Apollon to Ida Rubinstein. 
Stravinsky in a letter denied categorically that the story had any founda- 
tion whatsoever; he denied that he ever offered his works to anyone. 
What, apparently, had given rise to the rumors — and this Stravinsky 
admits — ^was that Ida Rubinstein, among many others, had approached 
Stravinsky’s publishers, Paichadze, about the possibility of a production of 
Apollon. For the time being Diaghilev was satisfied. 

This letter of Stravinsky to Diaghilev is, from another point of view, 
of the highest significance, especially the concluding paragraph, in that 
it vividly reveals the paths, opposite though they were, by which, in 19^8, 
both Diaghilev and Stravinsky were withdrawing from the arts; Diaghilev 
through his passion for book-collecting, Stravinsky through mysticism 
and religion. 

In this case the two men had, so to speak, common ground in 
Diaghilev’s intended visit to Mount Athos. Diaghilev was attracted chiefly 
by the magnificent books and manuscripts for which the monasteries 
of Mount Athos have been famous since the Middle Ages. For Stravin- 
sky Mount Athos was a holy shrine, the traditional treasure house of 
Greek theology and learning. It is typical that in his letter Stravinsky 
asks Diaghilev to bring back for him a number of oleographs of sacred 
pictures and a wooden cross, which he begs Diaghilev to have blessed 
for him there, on Mount Athos. He asks too, perhaps as a concession to 
Diaghilev’s tastes, for a catalogue of all works in Russian and church- 
Slavonic that were for sale. 

Shortly after, Diaghilev learned that Stravinsky had indeed, as he put 
it, “sold himself” to Ida Rubinstein, and was composing ballets for her, 
ballets which made him “shudder with disgust.” (“I have just got back 
from the theater with a severe headache caused by sheer horror of what 
I sa^ and heard, particularly of Stravinsky’s,” he wrote to me later.) In 



THE FIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS 1/3 

his letters about this ballet season of hers, he goes on to wish that some- 
one “would blow up these old barracks with their audiences, their red- 
headed . . . who imagine themselves artists because of the millions they 
can squander and the composers they can buy.” So great was Serge Pav- 
lovitch’s disappointment in Stravinsky that he even wished to doom him 
also to the same destruction. With what satisfaction he accuses Stravin- 
sky of hypocrisy, as, in another letter, he relates how Stravinsky had 
expressed his admiration for one of Ida Rubinstein’s performances; “De- 
lightful, I say it from the bottom of my heart . . . delightful . . contrast- 
ing it with a telephone message to himself next morning, in which 
Stravinsky said he had felt nothing but regret, mingled -with, disgust. Full 
of bitterness, Diaghilev notes: “Stravinsky, our famous Igor, my first 
son, has given himself up entirely to the love of God and cash.” 
(Diaghilev always considered Stravinsky his first, Prokofiev his second, 
and Dukelsky his third, son.) 

By 1928 Diaghilev had lost all further interest in Stravinsky. But how 
very different had been the sacred springtime of their friendship in 
1909-10 1 

1910 : The triumph of ^^SchSherazade*^ and ^^UOiseau de Feu^* 

The spring of 1910 once more welcomed Diaghilev in Paris, but now 
he had with him the very pick of what he had found in Russia, in addi- 
tion to the repertoire of the preceding season. He brought new produc- 
tions, SchihirazadCf UOiseau de Feu, Camaval, Les Orientals and 
Giselle. Generally speaking, the new program followed the lines laid 
down in 1909: indeed, there was in many ways an exact parallel between 
the two seasons. The orientalism of Cleopdtra found its equivalent in 
SchShirazade, the divertissement of IjC Festin in Les Orientales — ^a ballet, 
by the way, which was never revived — ^the romantic Sylphides in Car- 
naval, while even Giselle linked up through Thcophile Gautier with Le 
Pavilion d*Armide. It was a parallelism which threw into relief the 
manner in which the Russian Ballet had developed, and the full extent 
of its ambitions. No one could doubt that SchShSrazade showed im- 
mense progress when compared with. Cleopdtra, and the coruscating 
UOiseau de Feu lost nothing in comparison with The Polovtsian Dances. 

Diaghilev’s ambitions were fully gratified, and the new season in truth 
exceeded in splendor all that had gone before. With justice, the Paris 
correspondent of the review Apollon could write that, “although barely 
a week has elapsed since the Russian performances began, they have 
achieved a tremendous success in spite of Pavlova’s absence.” 

Nevertheless, though this season met with greater success than its 
predecessor, that success expressed itself more temperately. Originally, the 
audience had, as it were, been swept away by so great a profusion of 
riches, whereas now its appreciation, though deeper, was far less bolster- 



174 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

ous. The public was beginning to know and understand better what 
Diaghilev was seeking. 

The season made its debut with Cm-naval, Schihirazade and a diver- 
tissement, all o£ which were received with an acclamation that left no 
doubt as to the success of future performances. Later, additional novelties 
were introduced into the program, of which Giselle and Carnaval proved 
the least successful, the time evidently not being ripe to return to Paris 
what France had created. I italicize “not being ripe” for eventually 
Giselle was revived for the Paris Opera where it became, and is, one 
of the most successful ballets in the repertoire. In addition, the public had 
come to expect works specifically Russian, and for that reason experienced 
some disappointment. European romanticism, as refracted through Rus- 
sian prisms, could hardly satisfy the French taste, as we see by the fol- 
lowing quotation from Jean Louis Vaudoyer: 

“There is already a sufficient tendency to daydreaming in the tender 
irony, the fragile smiles which one finds in Schumann’s Carnaval, for 
one to regret seeing, superimposed on these sound-images, the somewhat 
less satisfactory materializations of the decorator and costumier. . . . Let 
us therefore ignore Schumann’s contribution, and gazing at the green 
stage-cloth, allow the eternal marionettes to lay at callous feet their tiny, 
wooden, painted hearts. 

“Bergamo and Gavarni, it may be, have not revealed to these Rus- 
sians the inner secrets of their grace. Their nonchalance perhaps seems 
somewhat forced, their interpretations perhaps too obvious, the sparkle 
overdone, and the whole perhaps too heavy. Perhaps it is all too reminis- 
cent of a German champagne. Asti, swimming with Como’s flowers, or 
the wines of our France, produces a headier intoxication. This Pierrot 
darts too heavily over the stage, and Pantaloon’s walk in a goose-step. 
Miming is a question of latitude, and it is a mistake to exile it from its 
own country. Eusebius, in Naples, may perhaps find some healing for his 
melancholy, but Harlequin, beneath northern skies, languishes and 
softens to mere sweetness; even his dazzling clothes, here, under our 
skies, become sad diamonds, faded like the petals of the ‘little blue flower.* 

“That divine simplicity, which is the essence of the great Watteau, 
as also of the lesser Guardi, which impregnates both Fantasia and II 
Barbiere, is a Latin treasure which, with Mozart, we alone know how 
to utilize. We were better pleased with the first act of La FSte chez 
T!h6rhse than with this Carnaval, which may be appreciated nevertheless 
for a certain harmony, frank and sober, and lovely details, such as 
Chiarina’s robe with its blue flounces — when bearing her two roses, she 
so strangely resembles those shapes one guesses beneath the dark waters 
of some daguerreotype.” 

First and foremost among the Ballet’s triumphs was undoubtedly 
Schihirazade, but it was largely Bakst to whom that success was due. 
With the very rising of the curtain, storms of thunderous applause rang 



THE FIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS I75 

out in recognition of the painter’s genius. Indeed, the public went quite 
mad about Bakst’s sets and costumes, and their success eclipsed every- 
thing Diaghilev had so far presented. Later, the designs were bought by 
the Musee des Arts Decoratifs with the Press’s universal approval. Some- 
what difEerent, however, was the reception accorded to the music, and 
many a critic thundered against the manner in which, according to tliem, 
Rimsky-ELorsakov’s music had been maltreated and distorted. As a result 
a spirited polemic ensued, maintained to some extent by the indignant 
protests of the composer’s widow. One section of the critics, it is true, 
found the procedure entirely legitimate, but another, with Pierre Lalo 
at its head, attacked Diaghilev for desecration, and for condoning a “crim- 
inal” practice. Nevertheless, even Pierre Lalo, in spite of his indignation, 
could find nothing but praise for this production: 

“And yet, ridiculous and shocking as this falsification of the meaning, 
the expression of the music may be, one almost forgets it when one sees 
SchehSrazade, so overwhelming is the magnificence, the originality of 
the spectacle presented to our eyes. On the stage, the very simplest of 
decors, reduced to its basic forms, represents the interior of the Shah’s 
harem, a sort of enormous tent of the intensest, most dazzling green, 
extraordinary in its richness and impact. There is no other color, to all in- 
tents and purposes, and only dimly does one perceive, on these huge green 
surfaces, a few vast outlines, Persian in origin, black or orange-red. The 
grotmd is covered by a similar orange-red carpet of a paler tone. On 
die ballet-cloth,- blue doors that verge on blackness. The clothes worn 
by the men and women, for the most part, are in colors complementary to 
the decor, difEerent shades of reds and a few greens. And against this back- 
ground glitters and moves the golds and silvers of the amorous negroes. 
Here and there, deeper touches of color, like the Shah’s robes, in which 
blues and somber violets strike the dominant note, and make one think 
of the loveliest Persian miniatures. The whole creates an ensemble miracu- 
lously harmonious and compelling; an enchantment that continually 
dazzles the eyes. M. Bakst, the Russian painter, who has composed this 
remarkable painting, link ed up the colors of this decor and the costumes, 
is, in truth, a very great artist. And the spectator’s delight is all the 
keener because, against this background of immobile fixed beauty, all 
is activity and constant variety. The groups of dancers and ballerinas 
come together and break up, and always there is the contrast, the merg- 
ing of the diflEerendy colored costumes. All this movement, this billowing 
and flowing of color, has been worked out and developed with the most 
exquisite daring and assured art. 

"Schihirazade is without doubt one of the loveliest, perhaps the love- 
liest, of all the productions the Russians have ofiered us yet. . . . 

“See the amorous orgy of the negroes and the Shah’s women, see the 
voluptuousness of the dances, the passion and frenzy of the gestures, the 
attitudes, the embraces; compare it with various scenes of orgy in our 



Ij6 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

own ballets, and then you will realize which deserves pre-eminence,” 

It must be said, however, that UOiseau de Feu participated in this suc- 
cess. Certain critics, for instance, including R. Brussel and A. Bruneau, 
even expressed a greater admiration for the latter, in which they claimed 
to see a completer renunciation of tradition in favor of newer concepts 
of plastic design and motion. Thus we find M. Henri Gheon writing: 
"'UOiseau de Feu, being the result of an intimate collaboration between 
choreography, music and painting, presents us with the most exquisite 
miracle of harmony imaginable, of sound and form and movement. The 
old-gold vermiculation of the fantastic back-cloth seems to have been 
invented to a formula identical with that of the shimmering web of the 
orchestra. And as one listens, there issues forth the very sound of the 
wizard shrieking, of swarming sorcerers and gnomes running amuck. 
When the bird passes, it is truly the music that bears it aloft. Stravinsky, 
Fokine, Golovin, in my eyes, are but one name.” 

Thus we see the French, critics more and more beginning to understand 
the real nature of what the Russians were trying to show them. So, too, 
we find M, Gheon writing of SchShSrazade: 

“It was inevitable that the day would come, when the organic and 
basic law which transformed opera into lyric drama, by suppressing all 
hors d’cEuvres and acrobatics, and demanding utter obedience to basic 
principles, would need to be applied to the ballet. The honor of making 
the attempt must rest with the Russians, as must their successful accom- 
plishment of it. Thus the ballet has become dancing. The moment it is 
no longer a simple divertissement, ballet asserts the privilege of pure 
dancing and imperiously calls to its aid the sublime art of music — ^an art 
from which it should never have been separated.” 

“Fcemina,” in Ue Figaro, addresses an imaginary interlocutor: “After 
all, these ballets are surely similar to others, though the decors are more 
charming and the costumes of a surer artistic taste . . . ? They are not 
similar 1 

“The Russian dancers arc possibly unaware of the mystic nature of 
their frenzy . . . ? But it communicated itself to us, and that is why these 
productions are the revelation they have proved to me. Those who wit- 
nessed them boast of having observed this or that detail, this or that step, 
the lighting, grouping; then they part, feeling they have not really said 
what they wanted to say, left out the most essential, . . . 

“It is impossible. In the rapture one experiences at these performances, 
there is something too original, too new. It is as though something had 
happened which afiected us deeply. We have seen dancing, and now see 
it for what it should be. Dancing, the faithful custodian of all our long 
and forgotten history, the holy dance! The dance before the altar, of the 
lover before his beloved, of the child before hope; the dance pious or 
fierce, commanded to the body by the soul, in which, for a moment^ a 
god reigns,” 







THE EIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS 1 77 

How little this resembles the words of A. Bonnard, or M. Prevost, who 
speak of dancing as an exotic art, incapable of rebirth in a civilized 
country. A timid dream begins to arise of resuscitating the French Ballet. 
Camille Mauclair has put it into words in La Revue, in an article en- 
titled “What We May Learn from the Russian Ballet”: “Dancing, too, has 
no less brought its stirprises, but in a very different way. On this occa- 
sion it has surprised us greatly to recognize, in Russian choreography, the 
principles of our ancient French choreography, absolutely forgotten today, 
but exported to Russia at the end of the i8th and the beginning of the 
19th century by our own ballet masters. When it was said of Mile. Salle 
or of Camargo that ‘every step was an emotion,’ it was as though Pav- 
lova or Karsavina were already being spoken of; and the mimed dance 
of Nijinsky can alone restore to us some idea of what Vestris meant to 
our ancestors.” 

After which the author of this article sets his reader a number of 
questions. 

“Where is there any indication of that measured, noble art in our corps 
de ballet, which hurls itself feverishly about in a fictitious Italian furia, 
in the livid illumination of a last judgment, and whose unbridled sens- 
uality marks the limits of its capacity for expression.? Where find an 
equivalent to that Dance of the Bowmen, in Prince Igor, sustained by 
that masterpiece of Borodin’s, and lovely as a Persian miniature come to 
life? Where find that dance of UOiseau de Feu, in which Karsavina 
seems to defy the very laws of gravity, and is metamorphosed into a 
fairy? What theater of ours has ever put on dancing equal to that of 
the bacchanal in Cleopdtra, or the orgy of Scheherazade, or beaten out 
a measure instinct with a melancholy, a fury, a languor so oriental and 
nostalgic as Rimsky-Korsakov’s rhythms? Alas! how distant all this 
is from our own coryphSes and corps de balletsl 

“Among such troupes of dancers, discipline and good taste are de 
rigueur, and each in turn moves on from some unimportant r61e to that 
of a star, each in his turn and without an atom of jealousy. . . . A Fokinc 
inventing a ballet, to music by Debussy, and decorations by Maurice 
Denis, with a Karsavina on the stage, and a Messager to conduct, what 
a magnificent evening that would make... if it could ever be anything 
but a dream I But who will remake, from top to bottom, our own dancers 
and ballerinas? Who will deliver us from the ridicule of our own tradi- 
tional ballet?” 


Renaissance of ballet criticism 

All this may seem very rhetorical, for the French Ballet could certainly 
have been resuscitated had it but followed Diaghilev’s example, which 
demonstrated how necessary it was to break through the routine and 
convention that hamper all progress. Nevertheless, merely by the fact 



1/8 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

of having given Paris his two seasons in 1909-10, Diaghilev had already 
done much to solve the difficulties of the French Ballet, for he had 
cleared a path, greatly stimulated public interest, and set certain problems, 
connected with the aesthetics of dancing and ballet, which demanded im- 
mediate answers. And here I make a distinction between dancing and 
ballet, for in the latter the elements of the dance are inseparable from the 
arts which are associated with it. Last, but not least, Diaghilev helped to 
bring into existence a real criticism of the ballet, which at the turn of 
the century did not even exist. 

In Russia, too, ballet criticism began to appear, — a fact which must be 
attributed entirely to Diaghilev’s efforts, accompanied by many critical 
and philosophical articles, among the authors of which must be mentioned 
A, Volynsky and his disciple A. Levinson. That celebrated writer on danc- 
ing, A. A. Pleshcheyev, was always more the historian than the critic of 
the ballet, whereas others, like V. Svetlov and Prince S. M. Volkonsky, 
restricted themselves to its theory. Not for nothing does A. Levinson 
begin his long article, On the Near Ballet, with the following words : 

“. . . It is only recently, and by chance, that the history, the aesthetics, of 
the ballet have begun to exercise us. By chance, because, recent adepts 
of an ancient tradition, we have come to the Russian Ballet only after 
making an immense detour through Paris and Berlin. Meanwhile ‘clas- 
sical ballet’ has meant nothing to us except as seen through the innova- 
tions of Fokinc, and his protestant and reforming spirit.” 

Nevertheless, though he wrote in defense of the academic ballet, and 
attacked both Fokine and Diaghilev, it was to them that Levinson chiefly 
owed his love of the dance, 

“Neophytes of the cult of Terpsichore, but recently indifferent, and 
perhaps antagonistic to this miraculous art, which today delights us so 
profoundly, it is not for us to talk of it categorically or dogmatically, or 
to define its aesthetic or trace out its paths. . . 

I shall have to revert to this article, dealing as it does with the seasons 
of 1909-10-11, and so shall confine myself now to one simple question. 
Why were these critical neophytes “but recently indifferent” and today 
“so profoundly delighted,” when the only ballet in existence at that 
“today” was Diaghilev’s ballet, which was then being so fiercely attacked ? 

The Bjissian Ballet permanently established 

Triumphant as was the result of the 1910 season, it had, in one respect, 
the same unfortunate consequences as that of 1909, in that several of 
Diaghilev’s artists abandoned him to accept excellent offers from many 
parts of the world. Thus it was necessary to find others to fill their 
places. But to this problem another and far more onerous problem was 
added, namely, that of establishing a permanent company. Thus far, 
Diaghilev’s seasons had lasted but six weeks at a time, a period short 



THE FIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS I79 

enough to offer no difficulty to the artists o£ the Imperial Theaters in ob- 
taining leave of absence, since it was really their “holidays” diey were 
spending in this manner. But early in 1911 a drastic change took place, 
for he who had borne away such triumphs in Paris; he, who had revealed 
so vast a talent for organization; he, who had returned in a blaze of 
world-wide publicity, began to seem dreadfully dangerous to the adminis- 
trators of the Imperial Theaters. An additional irritant was the fact that 
Diaghilev foxmd it necessary, for his projects, to remain in constant con- 
tact with the best artists attached to the Imperial Theaters, singers, bal- 
lerinas and dancers, and this too made him an object of apprehension to 
the Grand Duke Serge Mikhailovitch, who was anxious to reinstate 
Teliakovsky as Principal Director of the Imperial Theaters. Whereupon 
an obscure struggle was engaged, which ended in the bitter destruction 
of all Diaghilev’s hopes, consequent on Nijinsky’s forced resignation. 

This new fact made it necessary to think no longer in terms of a short 
six weeks* season, but in those of a permanent theater and established 
company. Alternately, he might manage to get Nijinsky attached to a 
great metropolitan theater, abandon all thought of an enterprise of his 
own, and find a post as artistic director for himself. The latter solution 
would perhaps have been easier, but was entirely imacceptable to 
Diaghilev’s nature. Such difficulties as encumbered his path not only did 
not weaken his energy, but seemed to increase it tenfold. Eventually, 
Diaghilev was able to enlist some of the most brilliant artists in the Im- 
perial Theaters who, like Bohn and Feodorova, were willing to resign 
their positions to join him. Even such splendid stars of the Mariinsky 
Theater as Kshesinskaya and Karsavina, while continuing to belong to 
the Imperial Theaters, were willing to lend their services to his com- 
pany. Mastro Cecchetti, then a professor at the Theater School, and bal- 
let master to the Mariinsky Theater, also agreed to join the new 
enterprise. 

The year 1911 opened favorably. An international exhibition was about 
to be held in Rome, and London was preparing a series of Coronation 
festivities. Thereupon, Serge Pavlovitch determined to embark on a 
grand tour which would embrace Rome, Paris and London. Its organiza- 
tion, however, offered considerable difficulty, necessitating as it did 
numerous journeys across the length and breadth of Europe, the super- 
vision of innu merable details, and all the effort associated with winning 
fresh support and establishing new connections, 

' In addition, it was necessary to establish the company in some perma- 
nent European center, where the needed preparatory work might be 
brought to completion. Such a center was eventually decided upon at 
Monte Carlo — ^and so it remained to the last day of the Russian Ballet’s 
existence. 

" Now the feverish activities begun in St. Petersburg were resumed in 
Monte Carlo. The new creations for the forthcoming season were numer- 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


i8o 

ous, and considerable difficulties attended them. These included the Stra- 
vinsky-Benois-Fokine Fetrouch\a, continuing the tradition of Prince Igor 
and UOiseau de Feu; the Vaudoyer-Weber-Bakst-Fokine Spectre de la 
Rose, following the “romantic” Sylphides and Camaval; a new ballet by 
Tcherepnine-Bakst-Fokine, entitled Narcissus; the “submarine kingdom” 
scene from Sad\o, with sets designed by Anisfeldt; and the Dukas-Bakst- 
Fokine ballet La PSri, in which Trukhanova was to star. But though her 
appearance was announced^ she and Diaghilev quarreled, and as a result 
it was never presented. In addition, work went busily forward on the 
London productions, these being Le Lac des Cygnes and an extract from 
The Sleeping Beauty, entided Aurora and the Prince. The moderate suc- 
cess of Giselle in 1910 had convinced Diaghilev that any production of a 
nineteenth-century classical ballet in Paris would still be premature. 

Creation of ^^Petrouchhxd^ and Spectre de la Kose^^ 

The most important item of this season was undoubtedly the Stravin- 
sky-Benois-Fokine Petrouchhji. This year also saw Diaghilev’s engage- 
ment of Pierre Monteux as conductor, an association which was to 
continue for many years. 

In his Chronicle of My Life Stravinsky gives, at length, an account of 
his part in the creation of Petrouch\a. 

Stravinsky was staying at Clarens in Switzerland, a small town on the 
Lake of Geneva. His immediate task, it seems, was to compose the music 
for Sucre du Printemps. Before embarking on this formidable and ardu- 
ous undertaking, he decided, by way of diversion, to write a work for 
piano and orchestra. While he was composing it, he tells us, he had 
clearly before his mind the image of a puppet miraculously come to life. 

From Stravinsky’s account it is a little difficult to understand pre- 
cisely what part the puppet played. It appears that the music developed 
as a quarrel between the puppet and the orchestra, in which the puppet 
is defeated. The climax was a violent outburst of noise from the orches- 
tra and the “death” of the puppet. 

When the piece was finished Stravinsky searched for a title, a title 
that would express precisely the character of the music, or rather of its 
protagonist, the puppet. 

At last the title came to him — ^Petrouchka, the traditional puppet hero 
of every Russian carnival, and indeed, under different names, of every 
fair in the world. It was inevitably right, and Stravinsky was overjoyed. 

Not long afterwards Diaghilev arrived at Clarens, anxious to hear the 
first sketches for Sucre du Printemps. Instead Stravinsky played to him 
the work he had just finished. Diaghilev was enthusiastic. Relegating, for 
the moment, Sucre du Printemps, he begged Stravinsky to expand the 
idea of the puppet come to life into a whole ballet. 



THE EIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS l8l 

Stravinsky agreed and suggested, he tells us, the main lines on which 
the theme should be developed. During the rest o£ Diaghilev*s visit, the 
two men worked together over the plot o£ the ballet. 

Be£ore Diaghilev ie£t, the essential shape o£ the ballet Petrouch\a was 
decided — ^the fair, the puppet theater, the conjuror, the characters of the 
three puppets, and Petrouchka’s short tragic enjoyment of hfe. The 
music already written was allotted to the second scene — ^in which Pet- 
rouchka, passionate, frustrated, tries vainly to escape from his cell — and 
Stravinsky sets to work at once to compose the rest. 

Such is the account given by Stravinsky of the origins of the ballet 
PetrouchJ^. The most important fact about it is that Stravinsky claims 
that it was he who first realized the significance of his “piano-concerto** 
as portraying the life of an animated Petrouchka. 

Diaghilev himself tells the ctory very differently. According to him, 
Igor Stravinsky played him a ^concert-piece” for piano, with no thought 
in his mind of PetrouchJ^a or any ballet whatsoever, whereupon Diaghilev, 
in a burst of enthusiasm, suddenly cried: 

“But that’s a ballet! Why, that’s Petrouch\a\** ® 

The whole decor of the ballet, both scenery and costumes, was en- 
trusted to Benois, the choreography to Fokine. Stravinsky has nothing 
but praise for Fokine’s treatment of the ensembles and solo dances, but 
complains, in his Chronicle of My Life, that the crowd scenes were not 
worked with sufficient care. He makes the criticism — ^similar in principle 
to his criticism of the production of L^Oiseau de Feu — ^that details of 
movement were left to the whim of the individual artists, instead of 
being determined by the structure and character of the music. 

Diaghilev’s idea was to use the brothers Molozov in this ballet, but, to 
his great regret, he could conclude no satisfactory arrangement with 
them. 

I now quote what J. L. Vaudoyer, author of the “argument” to Le 
Spectre de la Rose says about the origin of this ballet. 

“It was performed for the first time in Paris, during the third hallet 
season. The idea of this pas de deux came to us, as we were writing some 
notes for La Revue de Paris on the first productions of the Russian Bal- 
let, those of 1909 and 1910. By a sudden impulse, we had placed the 

H The same story is repeated in the fine obituary notice on Diaghilev from the pen 
of one of his last collaborators, N. Nabokov, the composer of the music for the ballet 
Ode: "Sometime in the first decade of the present century, Stravinsky, then living in 
Switzerland, played over his piano-concerto to Diaghilev. The latter listened to it with 
extreme attention, and at the end exclaimed: ‘But that is Petfotich\<il Thus it was ^that 
with his exceptional sensibility, his phenomenal ardstic flair, he sensed the characteristics 
of a whole future epoch. The piano-concerto became Petrouch\a, Stravinsky's greatest crea- 
tion, anrl thp^ most original ballet created by Fokine and Benois; possibly the best in 
the repertory of the Russian Ballet. It is important to note here that, at the time, 
PetroucKkjt was an absolutely new departure in music, that it became the forebear of 
a whole epoch, and revolutionized orchestral treatment. No less important is die fact 
that the composer himself did not realize the true importance of his ‘piano-concerto’; 
that Diaghilev’s prophetic insight was alone responsible for . . 



1 82 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

following lines from Gautier at the head of one such item dealing with 
Schumann’s Carnaval: 

*Je suts le spectre de la rose 
Que tu portals hier au balJ ® 

“When these pages appeared, in July, the Russian dancers were no longer 
in Paris, but our fresh and fervent memory still, in imagination, per- 
petuated their radiant presence. Again, we had not forgotten that Gautier 
had a particular predilection for Weber’s music, and particularly for 
Ulnvitation h la Vcdse. For that reason it occurred to us to associate that 
famous piano piece, orchestrated by Berlioz, and the romantic ‘white 
reverie* in rhyme. Whereupon we immediately wrote to Bakst, suggesting 
the idea to him for a ballet. Summer, autumn, winter passed, but no 
reply was forthcoming. We were no longer thinking of Le Spectre when, 
in May, we received a note from Diaghilev requesting us to appear with- 
out delay in Monte Carlo, there to witness the final rehearsals of this 
trifling divertissement. Thus our letter, which we had imagined lost, had 
yet sufficed; and all was ready. Fokinc had worked out the choreography, 
and Bakst had designed his decor and the costumes for the two parts; 
the specter would be Nijinsky and the girl, Karsavina. Unfortunately, it 
was not possible for us to go to Monte Carlo, with the result that the 
following month we made acquaintance with a Spectre complete in every 
detail, lovelier than anything we could have imagined, and divested of 
all that laborious groping, that experimentation, seeking and trial, which 
inevitably accompany any theatrical production, and which, like the 
somber wrappings of the chrysalis, swathe the butterfly with still shut 
wings.” 

In Rome, as in Paris, the Russian Ballet enjoyed an immense success, 
fully comparable with that in Paris, and, as was to be expected, 
Petrouch\a was the keynote of that success. Indeed, this ballet must be 
considered one of the peak-points, if not the peak, of the Ballet’s first 
epoch. But having attained such heights, the Ballet had now to choose 
between two alternatives, either to decline or seek further. It was not 
difiicult to guess the choice made by Diaghilev. Meanwhile, Petrouch\a 
was stimulating an immense amount of enthusiastic and critical writing, 
but, as in 1909 and 1910, attention was mainly concentrated on the 
scenery and costumes designed by Benois, the music composed by Stravin- 
sky, and, least of all, on the “choreography.” Even Veuillemin, who 
called this ballet “a miracle of choreographic art,” saw the “miracle” as 
existing chiefly in the richness of Stravinsky’s orchestration, whereas the 
critic for Gil Bias admired it as “a feast for the senses.” 

Jean Chantavoine, in a long article in Comcedia, provides perhaps the 

® I am the spirit of the rose 
You wore at last night’s ball. 



THE FIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS 1 83 

warmest tribute to this ballet: but here, too, one fails to discover any 
reference to the choreography. 

Interesting and enthusiastic as such articles may be, one cannot help 
wondering what it all has to do with dancing. 

Be that as it may, he Spectre de la Rose fared somewhat better in this 
respect, being in fact one of Fokine*s simplest, most perfect choreographic 
efforts, though hardly ambitious enough to be termed a ballet. Neverthe- 
less, for over a quarter of a century it has held the stage with invariable 
and permanent success. The following remarks by R. Brussel are in the 
highest degree deserved by it: 

“In the whole of this program one work stands out particularly for its 
charm and utter perfection, he Spectre de la Rose^ It is no concern of 
mine whether Gautier’s fable, the materialization of the perfume of the 
rose to a young girl who has returned from a ball, is perfectly wedded 
to Weber’s intention in the writing of Ulnvitation d la Valse. One sole 
object only remains to be considered, the spectacle, and that spectacle is 
an exquisite one. To realize the overwhelming charm that choreography 
may attain, one must have seen this ^quisite tableau, he Spectre de la 
Rose, short as it is, and barren of every ‘picturesque detail,’ with its ac- 
companiment of old and hackneyed music, is a sort of masterpiece.” 

Possibly less enthusiastically received than Petrouch\a and he Spectre 
de la Rose, though indubitably successful, was the submarine scene from 
Sad\o, in which the vocal parts had been retained. Nevertheless, it con- 
tributed nothing especially original after Cliopdtra, Schihirazade, and 
UOiseau de Feu* Tcherepnine’s Narcisse proved even less popular. 

First Appearance of the Russian Ballet in hondon 

Meanwhile, Diaghilev was contemplating his approaching d^ut in 
London with no litde apprehension, a record of which has come down 
to us in his article written in French, dated 1926 and entided hes Quinze 
Ans. 

“In 1909, the Russian Ballet having made its debut in Paris, a great 
and revered friend, the Marchioness of Ripon, wrote to me as follows : 

“ ‘I thought I had experienced everything life could offer — ^but you have 
brought a new joy into my life, the greatest and last — ^and you must come 
to London, for King Edward would simply adore your productions.’ I 
saw Mr. George Edwardes in London, the successful manager of a num- 
ber of London theaters, who immediately made me an offar, and it was 
arranged we should open at the Aidwych Theater in 1910- But the King 
died and we did not go. A year later Sir Joseph Beecham, encouraged 
by his son. Sir Thomas, arranged for us to appear at Covent Garden for 
the coronation of King George. But our dancers were so nervous that 
they could hardly dance. The auditorium was even more magnificent 
than the stage, the walls were htmg with over a hundred thousand roses. 



184 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

and the boxes contained almost as many maharajahs. Our reception was 
icy, and neither Karsavina’s variations, nor even those o£ Nijinsky in 
Armide, received the slightest applause. It was only after the dance of the 
buffoons that the strangest of sounds came to us: the public was gently 
clapping its kid-gloved hands. 

“The next evening, however, came our real opening, which proved 
an immense success, though during the last ballet The Prince Igor 
Dances, half the public went home. At least a hundred old ladies, cov- 
ered with diamonds as though they were icons, went out and past me, 
with a look of disgust on their faces. The business manager came run- 
ning up, crying: ‘You’ve spoiled your magnificent opening by this bar- 
barian horror at the end — ^it isn’t dancing — ^it’s just savages prancing 
about.’ The Press was of the same opinion! And it was only fifteen years 
ago! 

“From then on, until the war, Beecham became our patron, and made 
an arrangement with me, which I confess worried me somewhat, for 
it was merely a letter, authorizing me to produce the finest ballets I 
could, and to engage the best artists — ^the whole of Russia — ^while he him- 
self footed the bill. When, on one occasion, he wanted Chaliapin, Smirnov, 
Kusnetzova, Nijinsky and Karsavina all to appear in the same program, 
and I modestly protested, saying that the expense of such a production 
would be unheard of, he merely said it was none of my business.” 

So remarkable was the Russian Ballet’s success in London that Diaghilev 
returned again in October for a season of almost three months. From 
that moment Monte Carlo, Paris and London became the three main 
centers of the Ballet’s activities. 

Andre Levinson as critic of the Prussian Ballet 

I have already said that there appeared in Apollo in 1911, a first long 
article. On the Neu/ Ballet, by the critic, A. Levinson. With this article, 
a brilliantly intelligent, talented andi highly cultured critic of the ballet 
inaugurated a career, which, in books and articles, was to prove how 
fundamental and universal was his knowledge of the subject. For years, 
his articles appeared in Comoedia, and though at times one might dispute 
their conclusions, they never failed to be of the greatest interest. It al- 
most appeared as though a most dangerous adversary of the ballet had 
sprung up — “appeared,” I say, because in effect, however destructive that 
criticism may have seemed, the reader was nevertheless inspired to visit 
the theater, where, to his surprise, he would find himself enthusiastically 
applauding. 

From the very first, A. Levinson declared himself an implacalble, and 
at times prejudiced, adversary of the Russian Ballet and its chore-authors, 
beginning with Fokine. But though his criticism was brilliant, and only 
too often justified, more positive significance would have attached to it. 





Sir Thomas Beecham 


Desormieres 


Pierre Monteux 


Ansermet 





THE FIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS 1 85 

had it not been based on preconceptions o£, at times, doubtful validity. 

Having proclaimed himself champion and defender of “classical” ballet 
and dancing, and against the incursion of elements foreign to its nature;, 
Levinson, though he drew attention to a number of abuses, which, as 
he claimed, had deformed and distorted the very nature of the dance, 
unfortunately made no real distinction between the primitive basis of 
the perpetually changing edifice of academic dancing, and certain pre- 
cise moments in its history, as for instance, the condition in which he 
found it at the beginning of the twentieth century, in the Mariinsky 
Theater. His assumption that what was ephemeral in the art, was its 
eternal principle, and his defense of the latter in opposition to all t ha t 
might foster evolution and progress in the perdurable but necessarily 
protean shape of the academic ballet and dancing, was the fundamental 
error which vitiated the foundations of all his reasoning. 

Thus too, his view of Fokine, the first chore-author of the Russian 
Ballet was of necessity distorted, since he held him to be both revolu- 
tionary and one who sought to break down and destroy academic tra- 
dition; whereas, in fact, Fokine was merely a protestant, a reformer (I 
admit, I am here using Levinson’s own epithets), one who, though for- 
ever swept away by his own enthusiasms, and often at fault, did, never- 
theless, base all his creative work on purely academic principles. 

When Levinson reverts to the errors and mistakes of Fokine and his 
successors, it is impossible not, at times, to agree; but the moment he 
begins to generalize and then to draw his erroneous conclusions, his 
prejudices vitiate everything he says. Indeed, so powerful did these preju- 
dices prove, that practically no production met with his approval. Articles 
such as the following, consecrated to SchSherazade, are but the exception 
and even then we see him attempting to minimize his praise: 

“The women surround their incorruptible guard, the chief eunuch, 
with suppliant or imperious gestures; they murmur their secret desires 
in his ears, and when he turns indifferendy away they seek to soften him 
by that lissome and languorous dance with which the orange-clad oda- 
lisques strive to distract the sovereign tedium of die Shah. This repeti- 
tion, by three soloists, of the theme entrusted earlier to a whole crowd 
of dancers, is one of the most appealing inventions of the choreographer. 
Nevertheless, one must admit that, once the figure has been danced, prac- 
tically the whole choreographic content of the ballet has been expended.” 

Again, in UOiseau de Feu, Levinson is in error when he states that 
it lacks any element of real dancing. He is correct, however, in his ob- 
servation of a certain tendency in Fokine, formulated as follows: 

“Even in UOiseau de Feu, M. Fokine has had to suppress a number 
of his dances, but what was retained, is justified by him with an ardor 
only equaled by its hypocrisy. Thus, the dance of the bird is supposed to 

^ "Practically the whole” cannot but mean that something is left. Nevertheless he is 
careful to omit any mention of such other virtues as this ballet possesses. 



lS6 SERGE DIAGHIUEV 

represent the moment in which it takes to flight, that of the princesses 
a game at ball, that of Kastchei himself is justified by the spell cast over 
him by LfOiseau de Veu^ 

Again he manages to praise L^s Sylphides, but here too this “lovely 
romantic dream’—according to the reviewer — “lacks pantomimic action.” 
Clearly, the critic has taken refuge in “pantomime” and “literary ap- 
proach” only to evade an expression of unqualified approval. 

Yet, if it be possible to agree with certain of Levinson’s remarks, it is 
impossible to accept the principles on which they are based. For instance, 
I would have agreed with him when he attacks Fokine for attaching 
too much importance to “ethnography and archaeology,” had he been 
basing his attitude on the consideration that their possibilities must soon 
be exhausted, and therefore lead to the dead end of repetition. And 
again, I would agree when he attacks Fokine for his physical realism, 
carried over from the traditions of the Moscow Art Theater, since, be- 
cause of them, Fokine was only able to permit a dance when and where 
it was dramatically justified. Nevertheless, I cannot accept the viewpoint 
from which the accusation is made, as when he says “he does all he 
possibly can, to prevent the onlooker imagining that a scene is being 
danced just because it forms part of the ballet. If, however, we were to 
enumerate the dance themes which exist today, and which have existed 
in the past, we should have to reduce to nothing the part played by the 
ballet masters and choreographers.” 

I am entirely in agreement too with Levinson, in his shattering criticism 
of that most dangerous dramatic tendency in the ballet, the introduction 
of dances only where they would naturally occur, and their prohibition 
— ^again in deference to dramatic realism — ^wherever no such motive can 
be assigned. In ballet, every dance always has its raison d'Stre, because the 
very foundation of the art of ballet lies in the fact that, in contradiction 
to everyday life, it expresses in dancing, and dancing alone, every pos- 
sible human emotion, and therefore, from this point of view, there is 
nothing which cannot he danced. 

But when Levinson girds against dramatic action expressed in dancing, 
then I can only protest, and accuse him, in his turn, of wanting to 
thrust us back into the divertissement of the nineteenth century. 

A similar error is perpetrated by him, when he speaks of the mutual 
relation of music and dancing, and painting and dancing, in these same 
productions of Fokine’s. But here I am unable to follow him, for why 
should a non-picturesque setting be in any way preferable to some truly 
artistic achievement? 

When Levinson states that “painting being in two dimensions is static,” 
we may concur, but he forgets that, for Diaghilev and his friends, the 
painters of The World of Art group, the chief attraction and delight of 
a ballet lay in the opportunity it gave for transposing a painting into a 
third dimension of volume and action. Thus, they were able to make 



THE FIRST RUSSIAN SEASONS 1 8 / 

painting dynamic, and this development worked to the mutual advan- 
tage of both painting and ballet. Indeed, it is in just such instances that 
Levinson’s prejudices redound most to his discredit, for though in 
earlier criticisms, we find him declaring a preference for the simplest of 
d&ors and costumes, later, when the process of simplification has set in, 
we find him regretting past splendors. 

But there were other sore points which much exercised this critic, 
though he did litde to mend them, no doubt because of the same inherent 
disability in himself. Thus, we find him accepting the new relation 
between music and the dance, in which the former dominates the latter, 
and in consequence, forces it to subjugate itself to motions and patterns 
which do not arise spontaneously, and yet at the same time complaining 
that a symphonic suite is hardly a suitable medium for the structure of 
a ballet-divertissement of the kind to which he is partial. Thus he de- 
mands that the music shall be both lovely and self-justificatory. 

This is the fashion in which Levinson refers to the innovating zeal of 
Fokine, *‘a gradual development from the ambiguity of the old ballets 
towards a new unity, and from choreography towards pure miming, in 
the name of a realist fiction: after which the dramatic movement will 
be subjugated to the static principle of painting, the musical rhythm be- 
come more elaborate, and the ‘symphonic suite’ replace the ballet score.” 
As a formulation it cannot be considered particularly happy, and its accep- 
tance would need so many qualifying clauses that litde indeed would 
remain. Much more just, though cruel, were the words of his article 
dealing with the creator of The Polovtsian Vances, “More and more 
frequendy he imitates his own discoveries. Less than three or four years 
have passed since we first saw his productions, and already his style 
seems both petrified and derivative.” But that Diaghilev also was already 
begiiming to feel. The end of Fokine’s association with the Russian 
ballet was hurrying near. 



CHAPTER X 


THE RUSSIAN BALLET 1912-22 

The three periods in the history of the Russian Ballet 

IN SPLITTING up the history of the Russian Ballet into three periods, 
1909- 191 1, 1912-1922, and 1923 to the year of Diaghilev’s death, I am 
aware that my method may arouse doubt, and possibly some disagree- 
ment because of the disparity between the periods and, even more, by the 
fact that I have combined into single periods tendencies which can only 
be called disparate, while dividing others manifesting a certain similarity. 
In both the first and second periods, we meet the names of Bakst and 
Fokine, but, in the 1912-1922 period we find the colorful exuberance of 
Bakst set oflF by the simplifying cubism of Picasso, the impetuous dynam- 
ism of Fokine and the sculptural designs of Nijinsky set ofi by the 
burlesquerie of Massine, whose ideology was so difierent from that of 
his two predecessors. A similar relation might be found between the 
two latter periods, for though many things unite them, they also con- 
tain much that is difficult to reconcile. 

It is, of course, true, that any cross-section of an organic living process 
— and the Diaghilev enterprise as such was intensely vital and active- 
must of necessity be accepted conditionally at the risk of destroying, to 
some extent, its integrity, and, in some measure, falsifying it. Neverthe- 
less, the method is a convenient one, and even I would say indispensable, 
when important and complicated events are to be studied. Yet, we must 
remember always, that this division is to be accepted only conditionally, 
and with a proviso that the lines of demarcation are necessarily vague, 
for the periods almost imperceptibly merge into each other. Thus, though 
the names of Bakst and Fokine, for instance, intimately link up 1911 
and 1912, each, nevertheless, belongs to a different epoch. 

Yet, if the years 1911 and 1912 have much in common, no less great 
are the differences. Indeed, 1912 might be treated, and justly, not only 
as a fresh epoch, but as a fresh epoch inaugurated by Diaghilev in that 
year. 

Diaghilei/s inspiring influence during the second period 

What made this fundamental, this basic difiEerence between the pre- 
ceding years and that year of combat, 1912, heralding the second epoch 
of the Russian Seasons, was the fact that, whereas before, Diaghilev had 

188 



THE RUSSIAN BALLET I^IZ-ZZ 1 89 

been content merely to reveal the achievements of Russian art, there- 
after he was to begin his searchings for new forms in art. Already, how- 
ever, the first Russian Seasons had revealed to the world what had so 
far been achieved in Russian art, either by the Imperial Theaters through- 
out the nineteenth century, or later, in protest against established canons, 
or again as the result of the artistic ferment caused by The World of Art 
in a summing up that was both brilliant and comprehensive! Yet even 
in the very last years preceding the war, a feeling was abroad that the 
finest manifestations of contemporary art, though barely in bloom, were 
already doomed to decay; doomed to make way for a new art sprung 
from a new culture, a new conception of life. Then came the war years, 
and their aftermath: culture declined, and the over-simplification of all 
things soon swept out of existence an art which had seemed so young, 
so rich in beautiful promise. To the new man, the glittering oceans of 
sound, color and movement, the complexity of the orchestra, the inde- 
scribable perfection of the fouettes, the blinding riot of color, the be- 
wildering and fantastic beauty of the spectacle, all meant nothing. 

One of the first to realize this change was Diaghilev — ^the inspired 
architect of the splendors which formed so notable a feature of the first 
years of the new century. Nevertheless, he did not mourn the past, now 
useless and inaccessible to the new generation, nor did he try to galvanize 
it into new life. Instead, he united with those who sought a new culture, 
a new art, and the creation of new beauty. Diaghilev, one felt, sensed 
and knew better than his compeers that beauty, in art, did not necessarily 
derive from form, and that men were only able to perceive that beauty 
in terms of their epoch. Eclectic and subde, he was able, not only to 
sense and make contact with every new trend, but even to lead in its 
van, thus exaedy paralleling his activities during the first years of the 
twentieth century, however difiEerent artistically and organically the pres- 
ent might be. Thus, ;in 1912, the first portents of his changing viewpoint 
appear in the production of die Prelude h VApr^s-Midi d* un Paune, which 
marks a new milestone in the history of the Russian Ballet. Yet, steeped 
in an ancient culture as he was, and fervent admirer of impressionism, it 
was not possible for Diaghilev wholly and completely to break with the 
past. And it was because he strove to link the old and the new, to save 
what might be saved of the lovely past, that Diaghilev produced that 
remarkable new ballet, Paune, to the impressionist music of Debussy, 
and the impressionist decors of Bakst. 

Perhaps the most striking proof of coming change was Diaghilev*s 
decision to cease concentrating exclusively on the series of ‘'national” 
ballets, so remarkably evocative of ancient Russia. Hitherto, everyone of 
his ballets, with Spectre de la Rose as virtually the sole exception, had 
been purely national in character. 

It may, of course, be argued that long before this, Diaghilev had pro- 
duced ballets to music by various foreign composers such as Chopin, 



190 SERGB DIAGHELEV 

l^s Sylphidcs; Schumann, Carnaval; Weber, L.c Spectre de la Rose; 
and even that wholly French ballet, Giselle. To this I must perforce agree, 
but with one proviso, that this was music of universal importance, long 
part of our musical consciousness and tradition, and already merged with 
our national art. From 1912, however, while continuing to avail himself 
of the services of his Russian collaborators, Diaghilev begins more and 
more to have recourse to foreigners. In Fokine’s ballet JLe Dieu Bleu, 
for example, we find the librettist, Jean Cocteau, and the composer, Rey- 
naldo Hahn; Faune is created around Debussy’s music, and Uaphnis and 
Chloe to that of Ravel. No doubt, his long acquaintance with France 
contributed greatly to Diaghilev’s predilection for French collaborators. 

This second period of the Russian Ballet may seem to cover a period 
almost inordinately protracted, actually eleven years, but it must be re- 
membered that war and revolution are both included, periods which, 
from any creative standpoint, must be considered entirely negative. Years 
of the greatest dij 05 culty they proved, spent in erratic wanderings, or quasi- 
internment in Italy, Portugal and Spain. Thus, if we only take into 
account the years of productive activity, the third and final epoch will 
be found the longest. 

Fokine, Nijinsky, Massine — can we consider it justifiable to include 
all three in one and the same epoch? In fact, however, Fokine’s importance 
relates only to the earliest of the ‘‘Russian seasons.” For, in 1912 and 1914, 
he is little more than an “extra,” a guest ballet master, and his produc- 
tions bear no real relation to the new path of the ballet. Thus, all his 
three ballets of 1912, Le Dieu Bleu to music by Reynaldo Hahn, libretto 
by Cocteau; Thamar to music by Balakirev, and Daphnis and Chloe 
to that of Ravel, were, in spite of Bakst’s lovely decors, and some re- 
markable inventions in the sphere of dancing, completely overshadowed 
by the clou of the season, that “new word” of the Russian Ballet, the 
PrSlude cL VAprhs-Midi d*un Faune, in the production of which Diaghilev, 
Debussy, Bakst and Nijinsky all collaborated. Fokine cannot really be 
considered, therefore, to have played any part in the development of 
the second period, the predominant factors in which were Nijinsky and 
Massine. Massine, it is true, disavowed Nijinsky, not only by word of 
mouth, but in his acts and even his being; nevertheless, his choreography, 
like that of Nijinsky, belongs to a similar epoch, the dance-ideology of 
which was “fixed” by Diaghilev’s choreographic researches: that same 
Diaghilev who formed Nijinsky, and later the youthful Massine. This 
all-determining influence of Diaghilev, on the painting, music and danc- 
ing of the Ballet, is what is most characteristic of the second period, and 
what diJEferentiates it utterly from the third and last, in which he more 
and more withdrew from the Ballet. So great indeed was Diaghilev’s 
creative influence on the Ballet, in this second period of its existence, that 
one may even describe him as the arbiter of all its artistic tenets, and 
even as prime ballet master. 



THE RUSSIAN BAELET l^TZ-ZZ 19I 

1912 came to an end in an atmosphere o£ classic antiquity, with the 
creation of two new ballets: Prelude h VApr^^-Midi d*un Faune by 
Debussy and Nijinsky; and Daphnis and Chloe by Fokine and Ravel. 
That the researches into antiquity of such painters as Benois and Bakst 
gready influenced the stylized ballets of Fokine, we already know. 
Daphnis and Chloe proved no exception, the only change being the more 
arduous effort demanded of Bakst to make it possible for Fokine to 
recapture and dynamically express the form and image of the ancient 
dancing depicted in red and black on Attic vases. It was Bakst, too, 
whose duty it was to familiarize Nijinsky with the plastic forms of the 
past, and help him bring the Prelude d VApres-Midi d’un Faune to 
fruition. That is why these ballets present so great a similarity, funda- 
mentally different though the two choreographers might be. What made 
this similitude particularly striking was the frequent recurrence, too 
frequent perhajw, of movements in profile. But whereas, with Nijinsky, 
these movements seemed cumbersome and set, Fokine, with his vaster 
experience, was able to communicate the ease and grace and upsurge of 
pure dancing, and thus wed Bakst’s plastic sense to the technical per- 
fection of The Polovtsian Dances, Indeed, there is many a reminiscence 
of Prince Igor in Daphnis and Chloe, Yet, great as was Bakst’s influence 
on the Faune, it was Diaghilev who actually inspired and created this 
ballet, for he it was who persuaded the unwilling Debussy to allow his 
music to be used in this manner. Indeed, only Diaghilev’s determination 
could have prevailed against Debussy’s resistance. To repeat myself, there- 
fore, it was in Venice, in 1911, that the idea of the Faune first came to 
Diaghilev, and it was he who first demonstrated its angular forms to 
Nijinsky, and envisaged it in all its completeness, from the moment the 
nymphs appear, living images from ancient vases, to the closing gestures 
and utter immobility on the final crescendo. Diaghilev it was, too, who 
spent long hours studying sculpture, bas-reliefs and antique vases in an 
effort to resuscitate the ancient poses, and translate them into a new 
dynamic. These discoveries he communicated to Nijinsky, for final ex- 
pression in terms of dancing. Thus, Nijinsky was in fact interpreting 
Diaghilev’s inspiration, and no surprise need therefore be felt because, in 
his imeertainty how to continue, Nijinsky was constandy forced to resort 
to his mentor. I shall have to revert yet again to Diaghilev’s choreog- 
raphy, for the Faune, though his first, was by no means his last effort 
in choreography. 


Diaghilev and Kavel 

Daphnis and Chloe, that masterpiece of Ravel’s, was only created after 
an interminable succession of delays, which led to many complications, 
diflEculties and misunderstandings with the composer. For instance, we 
find Ravel in his biographical sketch writing: 



Ip2 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

“Daphnis and Chloe, a choreographic symphony in three parts, was 
commissioned from me by the director of the Russian Ballet. ... In writ- 
ing it, my intention was to compose a vast musical fresco, concerning 
itself less with archaic fidelity, than with fidelity to the Greece of my 
dreams, which in many ways, resembled that imagined and depicted by 
the French artists of the latter end of the i8th century. 

“The work is constructed symphonically, but the tonal plan is kept 
severely in check by the employment of a very few themes, whose elabora- 
tion ensures that the work shall be homogeneous. 

“Sketched out in 1907, Daphnis was put back on the loom a number 
of times, and especially the finale.” 

If M. Ravel is not mistaken in the date, it would appear that Diaghilev 
commissioned him to compose Daphnis and Chloe as early as 1907, dur- 
ing the concerts of Russian historical music then held in Paris. By 1909, 
the work had progressed so far, that Diaghilev, certain of being able to 
present it during his season the following year, ventured to include a 
clause in his contract with Karsavina, stipulating her appearance as Chloe 
in alternation with Pavlova. Nevertheless, the ballet was not presented 
either the next or the following year, owing to delays on the part of 
Ravel. Finally, in 1912, the score was sent to Diaghilev, who though posi- 
tive of its exceptional merit, had begun to doubt the advisability of pro- 
ducing the work at all, given the many diflSculties which had already 
attended its preparation. Then again, this Greece of Ravel’s seemed to 
have nothing in common with the archaic Greece of the Isles, pictured 
by Bakst. However, one would be hard put to it to say which of the two, 
painter or musician, was more in the spirit of Longus, taking into ac- 
count the fact that the action takes place on Lesbos. Bakst wished to 
return to an archaic Greece, but it is possible that Ravel and the French 
painters of the eighteenth century, were nearer to Longus, and the de- 
cadence of his epoch. 

Another difficulty was the composer’s refusal to accept the libretto, or 
“choreography” as interpreted by. Fokine, on the grounds that it failed 
to render either his ideas, or the musical structure. Thus Ravel was con- 
stantly demanding fresh changes, which often ended in compromises 
painful to all. 

On the other hand the chore-author himself had reasonable grounds 
for dissatisfaction, in spite of the excellence of the work as music, and 
even as a background for dancing. For eminently “danceable” though 
it was, and this is true of all Ravel’s music, seeing how much of it de- 
rives from Spanish and Basque dance tunes, the musical structure of 
this work was particularly unsuited to the ballet form, so that the choreog- 
rapher found his diflSculties all but insurmountable. Indeed, Ravel might, 
with far more justice, have called his composition a ** symphonic musicale/* 
rather than a ** symphonic chorSographique” 

A glimpse of the many diflSculties which arose in connection with 




Claude Debussy 


Maurice Ravel 



Erik Satie 


G. Auric 



THE RUSSIAN BALLET 19IZ-ZZ I93 

this production are afforded by Ravel’s publisher, J. Durand, whom we 
find writing: 

“...We were all ready to start rehearsing at the Ch^telet, when, one 
day, at my oifice, I was informed that Diaghilev had come to see me. 
M. de Diaghilev gave me to understand that he was not wholly satisfied 
with the composition, that in fact he was in some doubt as to whether to 
proceed with the ballet. I used all my powers of persuasion to bring him 
back to hisi original feeling about the work. ... After thinking a bit 
.. .M, de Diaghilev said simply. Til put it on!’ 

“During rehearsals, violent discussions went on between die author of 
the ‘argument,’ the choreographer, and the soloist in the main part, 
Nijinsky, in which Diaghilev naturally participated. As everything 
took place in Russian, all I could hear was the sound of somewhat vio- 
lent voices. They were discussing the choreography, and the opinions 
seemed diametrically opposed. I do not know who finally prevailed. 
They must have reached some compromise, but a certain amount of re- 
sentment evidently persisted, and from that moment the break between 
Fokine and Diaghilev began, a break which became oflScial once the 
Russian Ballet season was ended.” 

Rehearsals were conducted with diflEculty, and in an atmosphere 
charged with ill-feeling, the finale, in particular, giving endless trouble 
to the corps de hcdlet, written, as it was, in five-four time. However, by 
omitting actual counting, and substituting the syllables “Ser — ^ge — ^Dia — 
ghi — ^lev” in its place, the corps de balletj after humming it over an 
infinity of times, finally succeeded in getting it right. 

This ballet was dedicated by Ravel to Diaghilev. It did not, it is true, 
lead to any open rupture, but their relations certainly became percep- 
tibly cooler, and a long time was to elapse before they collaborated afresh. 
Yet, so greatly had Diaghilev admired the genius of Ravel, so near his 
heart were his hopes for the closest collaboration, that he was profoundly 
disappointed when, as he thought, the latter’s music proved unsatisfactory 
in terms of dancing, and even, in some degree, alien to what he himself 
and his ballet masters were seeking- The following spring, however, 
we find Ravel collaborating with Stravinsky on the re-orchestration of 
Khovantchina, Later, in January, 1917, Diaghilev invited Ravel to com- 
pose the music for a ballet-libretto by the Italian poet Canguillo, an 
offer which was accepted, though its subsequent history is unknown. 
For all we know, the work may never have been begun. Then, in 1919-20, ; 
Ravel, commissioned by Diaghilev, composed the music for a new ballet 1 
— Valse. This proved a remarkably beautiful and eminently dance- ; 
able score, and (with Bolero) became Ravel’s most popular item, first 
in France and later throughout the world. In spite of all this, Diaghilev 
refused to accept La Valse for the Ballet, and thereby mortally offended 
the composer. It is hardly necessary to enter into the moral aspects of 
this *'affcdre Ravel-Diaghilev,” for where art was concerned Diaghilev 



194 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

cared nothing for moral obligations or wounded pride. But all he had 
seen in this remarkable score was . . , merely a delightful i/alse. As ballet 
he considered it lacked scenic action, and so paralyzed every possibility 
of choreographic development. As a result Ravel broke off all relations 
with him, though the rupture was felt with equal keenness by both. 
Later, in 1925, at a time when Gunsburg was helping the company to 
produce UEnfant et les Sortileges at Monte Carlo, the two men hap- 
pened to meet. Diaghilev put out his hand, but it was ignored, and the 
affront all but led to a duel. I well remember how wretched the whole 
episode made Diaghilev. Shortly before his death, in 1929, Diaghilev 
wished that a reconciliation might take place, and that Ravel might once 
more work with the Ballet. He begged R. Brussel to do what he could 
in the matter, but, alas, Diaghilev died before anything was accomplished. 

However, to return to the 1912 season, continuing its progress amid 
thunderous applause and no less vociferous catcalls. Thamar proved 
somewhat dim, and received but little notice, but Balakirev’s music and 
Bakst’s decors got their fair share of appreciation. The ballet itself, how- 
ever, created but moderate interest, for as the critic of Apollo put it: 
“To be frank, apart from certain national Caucasian dances, presented 
as a divertissement, plastic rhythm is hardly the outstanding feature of 
this ballet.” L,e Dieu Bleu, too, scored only a moderate success. In this 
ballet, which was profoundly influenced by Siamese dancing (possibly 
because, in 1900, Fokine had seen the Siamese Dancers performing in 
St. Petersburg, where they created a furore), the corps de ballet was 
pushed completely into the background, much to the disgust of Parisian 
ballet-goers, who had come to love the ensemble of the Russian Ballet as 
much as they loved the Russian choirs. Even Nijinsky could not save 
this ballet, and his “dance of the hands” fell far short of his usual 
triumphant success. We find the same Russian critic of Apollo writing: 
“The dance of the Bayaderes with which it opens, was hardly noticed, 
and was treated as a slight divertissement. As for the rest of the ballet, 
it would seem to consist in several new poses (I insist on the word 
‘poses,* for the whole effect is one of monotony) by Nijinsky, and a 
number of precious and angular gestures, derived from Indian sculpture 
and admirably stylized, by Mile. Nelidova, wonderfully helped by her 
amazingly flexible, snakelike arms.” 

^^Prelude d PApres-Midi d^un Faune” and the resulting 

controversy 

No substantial success can be recorded for the third of Fokine’s ballets, 
Daphms and Chloe — ^notwithstanding the magnificence of the music, and 
its, at times, extreme originality — due possibly to a particularly flagrant 
lack of artistic unity, but more probably to its complete eclipse by the 
outstanding feature of the season, the PrSlude d VApres-Midi d*un Faune 



THE RUSSIAN BAIXET I9Ii-22 I95 

— ^the performance of which raised a veritable storm. This outcry was 
concerned, not so much with problems of art, as with certain moral 
aspects of the performance, for what roused the spectators to shocked 
protest was not its daring and originality as dancing, but Nijinsky’s 6nal 
gesture with the nymph’s veil. The first shot was fired by an article by 
G. Calmette in Figaro entitled *‘Un Faux Pas”: 

“Our readers will not find, in its accustomed place imder ‘Theater,’ 
the criticism of my worthy collaborator, Robert Brussel, upon the first 
performance of UApres-Midi d’un Faune, choreographic scene by Nijin- 
sky, directed and danced by that astonishing artist. 

“I have eliminated that review. 

“There is no necessity for me to judge Debussy’s music, which, be- 
sides, does not in itselE constitute a novelty, as it is nearly ten years old, 
and my incompetence is too complete for me to be able to discuss the 
transcriptions of these subtleties with the eminent critics or with the 
younger amateurs who tax Mallarme’s masterpiece with the interpreta- 
tion arbitrarily imposed on it by a dancer. 

“But I am persuaded that none of the readers of Figaro who were at 
the Ch^telet yesterday will object if I protest against the most extraor- 
dinary exhibition which they arrogantly presented to us as a profound 
production, perfumed with a precious art and a harmonious lyricism. 

“Those who speak of art and poetry apropos of this spectacle make fun 
of us. It is neither a gracious eclogue, nor a profound production. We 
saw a faun, incontinent, vile — ^his gestures of erotic bestiality and heavy 
shamelessness. That is all. And well-deserved boos greeted this too ex- 
pressive pantomime of the body of an ill-made beast, hideous from the 
firont, even more hideous in profile. 

“These animal realities the true public will never accept. 

“M. Nijinsky, little accustomed to such a reception, badly prepared 
likewise for such a r61e, took his revenge a quarter of an hour after- 
wards with an exquisite interpretation of the Spectre de la Rose, so 
prettily written by M. J. L. Vaudoyer.” 

Calmette’s, however, was not the only pen to attack Faune, for we 
find Pierre Lalo in Le Temps dealing with the same ballet in ihe follow- 
ing terms: “The production of the Faune is a great error in itself: nothing 
can relieve the glaring contradiction between the slavish archaism and 
hardcast rigidity of the choreography and the flexible flow of Debussy’s 
prelude or Mallarme’s poem — ^both so alien and distant in their attempt 
to interpret antiquity.” 

He then goes on to attack the Russian Ballet in general, ending with 
the words: “The stigma of the Barbarian is common to them all!” 

Meanwhile the Press had split into two camps, part hardly able to find 
words strong enough to express an indignation and opprobrium that 
almost reached the point of calling for action by the police, the rest over- 
flowing with enraptured panegyrics. Worth noting here is ihe fact that. 



SERGE DIAGHXLEV 


ip6 

while its detractors were mainly musicians, artists expressed the greatest 
enthusiasm for it! JLa Guerre Sociale, for instance, glorified Nijinsky and 
'*Vdine slave” while Odilon Redon declared it inconceivable that anyone 
could have interpreted Mallarme more perfecdy than did this animated 
frieze of the Russians. The greatest impression of all, however, was pro- 
duced by a long article from the pen of A. Rodin in Le Matin, which, 
after stating that “Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan had taught us to 
love the beauty of body, movement and gesture,” went on: “The last 
of them, Nijinsky, possesses the distinct advantage of physical perfection, 
harmony of proportions, and a most extraordinary power to bend his 
body so as to interpret the most diverse sentiments. The sad mime in 
Peirouch\a seems, in the last bound of L<? Spectre de la Rose, to fly into 
infinite space. But in no part is Nijinsky so marvelous and admirable as 
in UApr^S'Midi d*un Faune, No jumps, no bounds, nothing but attitudes 
and gestures of a half-conscious animal-creature. He stretches himself, 
bends, stoops, crouches, straightens himself up, goes forward and re- 
treats, with movement now slow, now jerky, nervous, angular; his eyes 
spy, his arms extend, his hands open and close, his head turns away and 
turns back. The harmony between his mimicry and his plasticity is 
perfect. His whole body expresses what his mind dictates. He possesses 
the beauty of the antique frescoes and statues: he is the ideal model for 
whom every painter and sculptor has longed. 

“You would think Nijinsky were a statue when he lies full length 
on the rock, with one leg bent, and with the flute at his lips, as the 
curtain rises, and nothing could be more soul-stirring than his move- 
ment when, at the close of the act, he throws himself down and passion- 
ately kisses the discarded veil. 

“I wish that every artist who truly loves his art might see this per- 
fect personification of the ideals of the beauty of the old Greeks.” ^ 

This panegyric, however, earned a lively rejoinder from Calmette: 

"... I admire Rodin deeply as one of our most illustrious and able 
sculptors, but I must decline to accept his judgment on the question of 
theatrical morality.” After which, he went on to urge, that the Hotel 
Biron, presented to Rodin by the State, should be withdrawn since “it 
was inconceivable that the State — ^in other words, the French taxpayers 
— should have purchased the Hotel Biron for five million francs simply 
to allow the richest of our sculptors to live there.” 

Indeed, so bitterly did the controversy rage that the attention of the 
Russian Embassy was drawn to the matter, for it was feared that the 
Franco-Russian Entente might be imperiled. Whereupon the police inter- 
vened, and though the ballet was permitted to continue, the condition 
made was that Nijinsky should modify the particular gesture at the 
root of the bother. During his subsequent London season, Diaghilev felt 

iRomola Nijinsky. Nijinsky, pp. 175-6, 



THE RUSSIAN BALLET I9Ii-22 1 97 

it tmwise to risk presenting the Faune, and only did so in the following 
year, with JLe Sucre du Printemps in the same program. 

It is interesting to compare the heat and passion of this controversy 
with A. Levinson’s calm detachment, for to him this "archaeological 
experiment” seemed of no particular significance. 

The Russian critics, on the other hand, were far more concerned with 
the ballet as dancing than with any social aspect. Thus we find J. Tugend- 
hold writing in a Russian paper: “If, in the classical ballet, there was 
an abyss between the dramatic element and the divertissement, and if 
Fokine has striven to eradicate these two conflicting principles (which 
one feels at times, as I say in Thamar and Le Dieu Bleu) and if he has 
even been able to dramatize dancing in his finest creations such as 
Tha6r in CUopdtra, and Columbine in Petrouch\a: in the Faune move- 
ment becomes posture, dance gesture, m imi cry an ‘archaic* smile, the 
dynamic static, and the theater a sort of decorative fresco or tableau vivanU 
The spectacle, I agrees is lovely, but it is also a blind alley. Actually, 
the very basis of the theater is the rhythm of its movement, its three 
dimensions, the soaring of the soul, the flesh, the blood.** 

Such views may be justified, but they do not take into account the 
quite exceptional historic importance of the Faune, and its eflfects on 
the Russian Ballet, for this “archaeological experiment’* was to prove of 
very particular significance. 

Nijinsky’s choreography, behind which stood Diaghilev, and to such 
an extent that “Nijinsky” is almost in this case a pseudonym for 
Diaghilev, marked the turning point in the whole future evolution of the 
ballet’s dancing ideology, since it determined Le Sacre du Printemps, as 
well as Massine’s artistic development and that of subsequent choreog- 
raphers of the Ballet, 

Diaghilev was particularly grateful to Rodin for his defense of Nijin- 
sky. Nevertheless, if we are to believe Romola Nijinsky, that joy was 
soon to be poisoned, and to bring all relations with the French sculptor 
to a close. I quote her story as it stands, but without accepting any re- 
sponsibility for it. 

Rodin had expressed the desire to sculpt Nijinsky and the sittings had 
begun: “Serge Pavlovitch was rather alarmed by the intimacy which de- 
veloped so quickly between the aged sculptor and the young dancer. . . . 
He became jealous, but he controlled himself. The statue of Nijinsky was 
unf ortunately never finished, for Diaghilev found continual excuses to 
prevent the sittings. His jealousy now became uncontrollable. One day 
he arrived at the atelier sooner than expected. It was a heavy, storm- 
laden, suffocating afternoon, as only Paris can have in July. Serge Pavlo- 
vitdi went through the house, and found both artists in Rodin’s sanctu- 
ary, Nijinsky sleeping peacefully on a couch, covered by a shawl, and 
Rodin also asleep at his feet. The intense heat, the hours of posing, 
the heavy wine, had fatigued the aged sculptor as well as Nijinsky, who 



1^8 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

was not used to drinking. Diaghilev did not wake them. He left without 
being noticed and only confided in Bakst. The incident was never 
mentioned, but he energetically hindered any further sittings, and be- 
cause of this he undoubtedly robbed the world of a masterpiece.” ^ 

Tours in hondon and Centred Europe 

This season, which had begun so stormily in Paris, pursued an un- 
eventful course when continued in London at Covent Garden, though 
it established the Ballet once and for all on the British stage. Queen 
Alexandra and the Empress Maria Feodorovna both took it under their 
august patronage, and their common enthusiasm contributed greatly to 
establishing its success. The season ended, Diaghilev for the first time 
transported his company to Germany and Austro-Hungary, and thus 
extended his empire to Central Europe. 

The most notable success of the Berlin season proved to be Cleopdtra, 
a performance of which (with Petrot*ch\d) was attended by both the 
German Emperor and Empress, the former telling Diaghilev that there 
was more real Egypt in Bakst’s reconstruction than in all the works of 
the archaeologists put together. Indeed, he went so far as to say that he 
intended compellmg every German scientist and archaeologist to go and 
learn from the Russian Ballet. He also expressed a wish to go back-stage, 
much to Diaghilev’s discomfiture, who was thus forced to steer a way 
backwards through innumerable gangways, far too narrow for him, while 
the Kaiser plied him with endless questions. 

Here, and in Budapest, the Russian Ballet gained a well-deserved 
triumph. Their reception in Vienna was very different. 

It is true that, for political reasons, Russians were not notably popular 
in Austria at the time; but that is not sufficient reason to account for 
the antagonism of the officials of the Vienna Opera, the members of the 
orchestra and the Imperial Viennese Ballet. Stravinsky, who was present 
at the rehearsals of PetrouchJ^a at the Hofoper, says, in his Chronicle 
of My Life, that the musicians displayed open hostility. One must re- 
member that the Viennese orchestra of the immediately pre-war period 
was conservative in its tastes and that the music of Petrouchl^ was 
unlike anything heard in Vienna before. But that scarcely justifies frank 
sabotage of rehearsals or their interruption by such audible insults as 
**schmutzige Mtcsi\” 

If Petrouch\a was the casus belli, the brunt of the attack was borne 
by the Prussian Director of the Hofoper, who was responsible for bring- 
ing Diaghilev and his Ballet to Vienna. It was against him particularly 
that the members of the Imperial Viennese Ballet directed their jealous 
indignation. 

^Romola Nijinsky. Nijinst^y, pp. 184-5. 




Alexandre N. Benois 
“Shura” 


Leon Bakst 
(L. S. Rosenberg) 


Larionov 


Pablo Picasso 





THE RUSSIAN BALLET I9I2-2i 199 

But now Diaghilev was beginning to think of an expedition to 
America. 

Sacre du Priniemps,** its historical importance in relation 
to the Pjissian Ballet and Diaghilet^s part in it 

It was now 1913, a year of extreme importance in the history of the 
Ballet, as it was also to prove in the life of Diaghilev, for in this year 
Sacre du Printemps was first produced, i^the first South American tour 
was undertaken, Nijinsky married, and tfie friendship between the two 
men came to an end. 

With Fokine’s departure two new ballet masters took his place, Nijin- 
sky and Diaghilev; but, since the work proved too much for them alone, 
it was foimd necessary to engage a third in the person of Romanov, after 
which it was possible to split up the work. Diaghilev and Nijinsky made 
themselves responsible for the Stravinsky-Roehrich Sacre du Printemps and 
the Debussy-Bakst Jeux, while Romanov was entrusted with L.a TragSdie 
de Salome by Florent Schmitt and Sudeikine. 

But here we must stop a moment to deal with Sacre du Printemps 
which, because of its historic importance in the evolution of the ballet, 
deserves some special mention. 

About this time Diaghilev was passing through a phase of great en- 
thusiasm for Gauguin, the primitive and pictorial qualities of whose 
painting interested him deeply. Thus, he made a point of visiting each 
of the painter’s exhibitions from the very first — ^held soon after the latter’s 
return from Tahiti — ^to the last- Meanwhile, he had himself conceived 
the idea of producing a primitive ballet, but decided on a Russian set- 
ting, and to this end called on Roehrich and Stravinsky, the painter and 
musician most familiar with our ancient folklore, to join hands with 
him. Eventually, they produced the libretto and score of JLe Sacre du 
Printemps, 

Thus Diaghilev received his libretto, and with it the most magnificent 
and greatest of all Stravinsky’s scores. Fired with enthusiasm himself, and 
communicating it to Nijinsky, the men set to work. After his first ex- 
periments in choreography with Le Faune, which he might with justice 
consider a success, as indeed he did, Diaghilev, although, strictly speak- 
ing, not really competent to produce a ballet, nevertheless attacked the 
Sacre du Printemps with confidence. The fact that Stravinsky’s music 
was **non-danceable” failed to discourage him, for had not the same been 
true of Debussy’s lovely, though diffuse and spineless, music for that 
other novelty of 1913, Jeux? In the new choreography, with its statuesque- 
ness, its predilection for posed gestures, adumbrated action and angularity, 
all this mattered nothing. 

Among Diaghilev’s papers® I find the following letter addressed to 

® Now in my possession. 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


200 

him by Roehrich: “In the ballet o£ the Sucre du Printemps conceived by 
myself and Stravinsky^ my object was to present a number of pictures of 
earthly joy and celestial triumph, as understood by the Slavs. I don’t 
propose to set down a list of all the items in the ballet; such a list hardly 
matters when we are dealing with sets and groupings. My intention, 
therefore, stated simply, is that the first set should transport us to the 
foot of a sacred hill, in a lush plain, where Slavonic tribes are gathered 
together to celebrate the spring rites. In this scene there is an old witch, 
who predicts the future, a marriage by capture, round dances. Then 
comes the most solemn moment. The wisest ancient is brought from the 
village to imprint his sacred kiss on the new-flowering earth. During this 
rite the crowd is seized with a mystic terror, and this our excellent 
Nijinsky has stylized for us admirably well. 

“After this uprush of terrestrial joy, the second scene sets a celestial 
mystery before us. Young virgins dance in circles on the sacred hill, 
amid enchanted rocks, then they choose the victim they intend to honor. 
In a moment she will dance her last dance, before the ancient old men, 
wrapped in bearskins, to show that the bear was man’s ancestor. Then 
the graybeards dedicate the victim to the god Yarilo. I love antiquity, for 
its sublime happiness, and its deep thoughts. 

“I don’t know what Paris will think of my sets. So far my memories 
of Paris could not be better. The camp of the Polovtsians (Prince /gor), 
the tent of Ivan the Terrible in Ps\ovitian\a, as well as my work for the 
exhibitions, have all been appreciated there.” 

Upon Nijinsky the dancer, however, fell the task of informing the 
ballet with its dynamic impulse;, each element of which Diaghilev had 
carefully to explain to him. But it was a task which proved too diiSScult, 
since a still more difiicult problem remained to be tackled; that of 
transposing the movement on to a musical canvas but little suited to 
dancing. Whereupon Stravinsky came to the dancer’s rescue, backed by 
Diaghilev and Mme. Rambert, an expert in eurhythmies. Stravinsky, 
writing of these diflRculties in his Chronicle of My Life, says that Nijin- 
sky’s plastic conceptions were sometimes superb, but how much of this 
vision is to be attributed to Nijinsky and how much to Diaghilev? 

In spite of Stravinsky’s help, work on the ballet was continued in an 
atmosphere that was very far from peaceful. To Stravinsky it seemed 
that the r61e of choreographer to the Russian Ballet was beyond the 
scope of Nijinsky’s abilities, especially in the case of a work so full of 
technical difficulties as Sucre du Printemps. Nijinsky, he says, uncon- 
scious of his own incapacity, relied on the firm support of Diaghilev to 
protect him against growing criticism from the company and so became 
increasingly difficult to work with. 

Had Stravinsky, one wonders, any notion why Nijinsky had become 
so difficult to work with ? Did he know that Diaghilev, in the privacy of 
his room, demonstrated every step to Nijinsky, which explains why he 



ZOI 


THE RUSSIAN BAIXET I^IZ-22 

was forced to turn deaf ears to every criticism, and maintain and de- 
fend a creation, not his own, but Diaghilev’s. 

Eventually, after immense efforts on the part of all three, the Sacre 
was completed and produced in the spring of 1913, only to be rearranged 
seven years later by another collaborator of genius — ^Massine — ^to which 
it owes its present, and richer, qualities as dancing. 

Le Sacre du Printemps, to his last day, remained Diaghilev’s most 
beloved creation, and he would claim that in the twenty years of its 
existence no work produced by the Russian Ballet could be considered 
of greater significance. It pained him greatly when others failed to 
understand or accept the work; and again, any kind word or critical 
appreciation gave him delight. It was a long time before London accepted 
the Sacre, though in 1929 that event did come to pass. Less than a month 
before his death we find Diaghilev writing to one of his new friends: 

“Yesterday Lc Sacre du Printemps proved a tremendous success. At 
last these fools have got to understanding it. The Times says that the Sacre 
is to the XXth century, what Beethoven’s 9th was to the XIXthI At last! 
Yes, one has to learn to be patient and philosophical, even to rise above 
the obstacles that puny, narrow-minded men set in the way of what- 
ever seeks to depart from mediocrity. Heavens, all this is as trite as can 
be — ^but what’s one to do.? One can’t go on living without some hope of 
seeing ‘in the dawn the rays of tomorrow’s sun.’” 

An interesting record of this moment is provided in an article by G. 
Auric in Gringoire, for during the performance he had been watching 
Diaghilev’s face: “His somewhat puJBEy face now looked incredibly kind, 
almost childlike. . . , Suddenly he bent forward, his opera glasses to his 
eyes, watching for faults, observing the public. But when the scene ended, 
he stood up without even a moment’s hesitation. What applause when 
Sokolova reappeared once, twice, thrice, and innumerable times, to bow 
to this auditorium metamorphosed by the Sacre , ... I did not dare to 
say a word to Diaghilev, so profoundly did the happiness on his face 
touch me. When I think of his death, some weeks after, and of that 
which was broken around him because of it, it is this vision of him 
which my memory always conjures up....” 

It is a picture of a man rejoicing in his creation. 

In the production of Jeux, however, Diaghilev’s part was much more 
limited, and the ballet proved a comparative failure and was never 
revival. 

In addition to his three new ballets, Diaghilev brought three operas 
with him from Monte Carlo : Boris Godunov, Mussorgsky’s KJiovantchina, 
and Rimsky-Korsakov’s ISfuit de 'Mad, the decors for the two latter being 
by Fedorovsky. Earlier seasons had always been presented at the Chatelet 
or Opera House, but now G. Astruc ofiEered him the Theitre des 
Champs-Elysces, and was ever after to remember the event as one of 
the main causes of his subsequent financial difficulties. In his Pavilion 



202 


SERGE DIAGHIEEV 
des Fantdmes we find him referring to this episode in the following 
words: “Eventually the Russians arrived with their operas and ballets. 
Meanwhile I had told Diaghilev, ‘This year no more Chitelet, no more 
Opera House. You’re coming to my theater.’ 

“ ‘But as a matter of fact, old friend, the directors of the Opera House 
want me there.* 

‘“Well, and what then? I suppose they’re offering you your usual 
price, 12,000 francs.’ 

“‘Yes, but don’t you see, people have been saying for six years now 
that Astruc invented the Russian Ballet. And that sort of thing, old 
firiend, comes expensive.’ 

‘“How much?’ 

‘“At least 25,000 francs a night.* 

“‘Even for twenty performances?* 

“‘Even for twenty.’ 

“It meant half a million! But both my honor and pride were involved. 
I signed. But it was my death warrant. For in addition to those 25,000 
francs, another 20,000 had to be added for supplementary expenses, the 
orchestra having to be paid for morning and afternoon rehearsals, besides 
stage hands, electricians, coiffeurs, costumiers and a thousand more — 
without taking into account Stravinsky’s ukases, demanding, in that 
sad delightful Slav voice of his, a score of extra musicians, or the re- 
moval of the whole front row of the stalls, though they had already 
been sold. 

‘“You know, old friend, it’s done with the utmost ease nowadays by 
that powerful machine they have for cutting steel and reinforced con- 
crete. And the upholsterers will patch up the damage very quickly.’ 

“And then that ‘enfant terrible’ Stravinsky, that dear genius Igor, who 
wanted me to pull down all my partitions. But I do not regret my 
madness.” 

Uproar at the First Night of Sacre du Printemps^* 

The first night of the Sacre created a riot — a. violence of applause and 
catcalls unparalleled since the production of Hemani. Many accounts 
are available, but I choose that of Romola Nijinsky because she was 
present both in the auditorium and the wings. She begins by quoting 
another eyewitness, Carl van Vechten: “‘A certain part of the audience 
was thrilled by what it considered to be a blasphemous attempt to de- 
stroy music as an art, and, swept away with wrath, began, very soon 
after the rise of the curtain, to make catcalls and to offer audible sug- 
gestions as to how the performance should proceed. The orchestra 
played unheard, except occasionally, when a slight lull occurred. The 
young man seated behind me in the box stood up during the course of 
the ballet to enable himself to see more clearly. The intense excitement 



THE RUSSIAN BAIXET I^I2-Z2 20^ 

under which he was laboring betrayed itself presendy when he began 
to beat rhythmically on the top of my head with his fists. My emotion 
was so great that I did not feel the blows for some time.’ ” * 

“YeSj indeed, the excitement, the shouting was extreme,” continues 
Mme. Nijinsky. “People whisded, insulted the performers and the com- 
poser, shouted, laughed. Monteux threw desperate glances towards 
Diaghilev, who sat in Astruc’s box and made signs to him to keep on 
playing. Astruc in this indescribable noise ordered the lights to be turned 
on, and the fights and controversy did not remain in the domain of 
sound, but actually culminated in bodily conflict. One beautifully dressed 
lady in an orchestra box stood up and slapped the face of a young man 
who was hissing in the next box. Her escort rose and cards were ex- 
changed between the two men. A duel followed next day. Another 
Society lady spat in the face of one of the demonstrators. La Princesse 
de P. left her box saying: *I am sixty years old, but this is the first time 
anyone has dared to make a fool of me.* 

“At this moment Diaghilev, who was standing livid in his box, shouted 
'/e VQUs en prie, laissez achever le spectacled And a temporary quieting 
down followed, but only temporary. As soon as the first tableau was fin- 
ished the fight was resumed. I was deafened by this indescribable noise, 
and rushed backstage as fast as I could. There it was as bad as in the 
auditorium. The dancers were trembling, almost crying. They did not 
even return to their dressing rooms. 

“The second tableau began, but it was sfiU impossible to hear the music. 
I could not return to my stall, and as the excitement was so great among 
the artists watching in the wings, I could not reach the stage door. I 
was pushed more and more forward in the left wing. Grigoriev, Krem- 
nev, were powerless to clear this part of the stage. Opposite me there 
was a similar mob in the back of the scenery, and Vassili had to fight a 
way through for Nijinsky. He was in his practice costume. His face 
was as white as his cr6pe-de-chine dancing shirt.... 

“Everybody, at the end of the performance, was exhausted. The 
month’s long work on the composition, the endless rehearsals, and finally 
this riot.... Once more Vassili’s guard broke down and Nijinsky’s dress- 
ing room was stormed, Diaghilev, surrounded by his friends and the 

balletomanes explaining, discussing But they all agreed and knew 

that their creation was good, and that it would one day be accepted. 
They were so excited that they could not go and have supper right 
away, so somebody suggested a drive autour du lac. And Diaghilev, with 
Nijinsky, Stravinsky, and Cocteau, drove around in the Bois to quiet 
down, and only towards the morning did they return home.” 

^ Romola NtjinsJ^, p. 199. 



SERGE DIAGHELEV 


Z04 


Andre Levinson on Nijinsky^s ballets 

Neither the Press nor the public, however, showed any real aware- 
ness o£ the significance of this ballet, all the resentment being concen- 
trated on Stravinsky’s music. Daring and new as was the choreography, 
it was practically ignored, as was also the less original choreography of 
]eux, Andre Levinson proved himself the most competent of the critics 
on this occasion, for he had glimpsed the choreographic dualism of Le 
Sacre, though with no suspicion that it was upon just this dualism that 
the ballet was based. Levinson, of course, had no inkling that the former 
stood for Diaghilev and the latter for Nijinsky and Rambert. But as 
he put it, there was a fatal falsehood inherent in the ballet masters* con- 
ception of Stravinsky’s “intensely refined Hottentot” music, with its “ear- 
splitting intolerable discords, its ponderous, imperious rhythms . . for 
“the ballet master had concentrated solely on movement designed to em- 
body and express those rhythms.” Continuing, he says : 

“The dancers translate into bodily motions the beat, the volume of 
the sounds, and express its acceleration, its retardation by a systematized 
series of gymnastic movements, bending and straightening the knees, 
raising and dropping the heels, and forcefully emphasizing each accentua- 
tion of thct music. This is indeed the complete Dalcrozian pedagogical 
arsenal, as employed in the teaching of rhythmic gymnastics. Rational 
and expedient in their proper place, these systematized motions have no 
utilitarian value on the stage I 

“By reason of some aberration of artistic taste and understanding, in- 
explicable to the writer, a number of secondary pedagogical formulae, 
have here ousted the plastic, symbolical and psychological content of the 
dance. 

“Nijinsky, with blind infatuation, appears to have lost sight of the fact 
that rhythm itself is but the bones of a formula, a measure of action in 
time, but with no particular validity. Nevertheless, he has sacrificed the 
plastic side of his art to it, the result being that a whirling frenzy of 
savages maddened by the earth’s vernal rebirth, is reduced to a 
tedious demonstration of rhythmic gymnastics in which ‘wizards’ and 
‘possessed’ begin to ‘pace their notes,’ ‘follow the syncopation,’ and thus 
wreck the whole psychological conception, while provoking a somewhat 
humorous perplexity in the spectator. . . . To my mind, any attempt to oust 
the plastic forms of the dance by the new rhythmic formalism cannot be 
justified, and the latter should be relegated to the insignificant place to 
which it belongs.” 

Levinson then goes on to describe the second scene “as too, too lyrical.” 
In this scene, maidens in red garments move shoulder to shoulder in a 
round dance, with the angelic and prim gestures we have seen in icons. 
They disperse in search of a mystic trail, then elect, and worship, with 



THE RUSSIAN BAXJLET I^IZ-ZZ ZOS 

leaps and dances, the chosen victim. Eiders, bowed with age, in animal 
masks and hides, surround her. Immobile, until this moment, her face 
white beneath the white kerchief, she begins her last dance, the death 
dance of the consecrated. Her knees are joined: her feet turned inwards. 
A sudden convulsion sends her body sideways, leaving it bent rigid at a 
sharp angle. Propelled by the urge of a ferocious rhythm, deafened by 
the strident discords of the orchestra, she flings herself hither and thither, 
her tense form contracted and squirming in the ecstasy of this angular 
dance. The dance grows faster and more violent, until, at last, she who 
has been chosen, J^ls inanimate into the arms of the elders. “At which 
point, this nightmare, compact of primitive lyricism and primal terror, 
where these have not been obliterated by the purely sterile mechanism, 
comes to an abrupt end, bringing with it, for the spectator, a feeling very 
akin to relief. . . 

In comparison with Igor Stravinsky’s cyclopean poem, continues Levin- 
son, “Debussy’s Feux charms with its fragile cobwebs of shifting har- 
monies. The weaving of its rhythms is elastic and infinitely varied, but 
the achievement is characterized by much that is strange. 

“In this ballet Nijinsky, even more determinedly than Fokine, sets 
aside the traditional concept of the dance. Fokine, the eclectic, compro- 
mises by seeking to justify it on groimds of emotional expression. But 
Nijinsky disrupts and splits it into a sequence of distinct movements, kept 
apart by pauses, and linked only by the continued flow of the music.” 

To Fokine, the mechanical, the aesthetic value and significance of angu- 
larity and turned-outness, “mean nothing,” and he rejects them for the 
sake of a natural position of the legs and feet. But Nijinsky, in a plastic 
paradox, makes his ballerinas join their toes and turn their heels out- 
wards, 

“For him the plasticity of motion lies in a mechanical schematization. 
Every pose, every motion of the dancer might be graphically rendered — 
in straight lines. Both maidens hold their knees imbendingly rigid, their 
torsos erect, their wrists and elbows bent at right angles. With faces 
turned to the audience, they move down the stage in sudden angular 
jerks on half-raised toes. The single and solitary motion in which there 
is any freedom, a broad leap over a flower bed, comes as a pleasant relief 
to a tension of the utmost discomfort to the spectator. 

“This symbolism of split-up, of angular motions, fails to convey con- 
viction: a scenic event, almost unintelligible in itself, and lacking variety, 
seems tediously long in spite of its actual shortness.” 

Very unexpected, however, from the pen of so conservative, so con- 
stant an adversary of the Russian Ballet, is the conclusion of this article. 
“There can be no doubt that Jeux is but one more failure ... for it met 
with no particular approval. Yet this ballet^ in its conception, is char- 
acterized by a certain novelty, by no means sterile, however colorless, 
rigid and affected it may seem. Indeed, the impersonal, architectural 



io6 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

background, the rudimentary' and materialistic symbols of sport and 
sports gear, are suf&ciendy representative of certain aspects of con- 
temporary life. Again, in the angular groupings of tensed bodies, one 
feels something in common with the most modern tendencies in painting, 
seeking as it does a greater depth, a more elaborate synthesis on the path 
to geometrical simplification: a process which the work of the Swiss 
master Hodler excellendy exemplifies. In the work of Nijinsky diere is 
somediing of this purposeful and noteworthy approach to the abstract 
in art. His inspiration is by no means commonplace, but his approach 
to the problem [how one longs to explain ‘to Diaghilev’s problem’] is 
shallow, devoid of creative plentitude and forcefulness.” 

In particular, one is tempted to emphasize Levinson’s words that “in 
the angular groupings of tensed bodies one feels something in common 
with the most modern tendencies in painting, seeking as it does a greater 
depth, a more elaborate synthesis on the path to geometrical simplifica- 
tion.” No doubt can be felt that, after the Sacre and Jeux, Diaghilev 
definitely pursued this new road in his eflEorts to develop a new ballet 
form, more representative of contemporary trends in art and life. 

Of Romanov’s TragSdie de Salomi, Levinson speaks cautiously and 
diffidendy: “Romanov’s choreography,” he says, “struck me as ladking 
in definition, purpose and style. In the form of its movements it closely 
approaches the methods of Fokine, but a tendency to revive a decoratively 
symmetrical arrangement of the dancing groups is especially noticeable: 
yet this symmetry is an exclusive characteristic of the classic ballet. In its 
content, Salome’s broken, and mosaic-like dance seemed singularly un- 
expressive, possibly because we could find no faintest trace of tragic ex- 
perience in the ‘fussiness’ of Mme. Karsavina’s dancing. This ballet 
evoked no kind of reaction, either way, from the audience. All in all, it 
proved most sketchy.” 

T>iaghile%ds participation in ^^Khovantchina” 

The opera season, as was to be expected, proved very successful, the 
repertoire consisting of Boris Godunov, Mussorgsky’s Khovantchina and 
Rimsky-Korsakov’s ISluit de Mai. Some idea of Diaghilev’s activities in 
connection with these productions may be guessed from what we know 
of his eiforts in regard to Khovantchina. Dissatisfied with Rimsky-Korsa- 
kov’s general treatment of the work, in any case incomplete, he began 
a careful study of the original manuscript, with the view to making a 
new version. It was necessary, he decided, to orchestrate certain parts, 
to re-orchestrate others and to have a new chorus for the finale. Mus- 
sorgsky, in the case of the finale, had merely sketched in a theme, the 
melody of a Russian song, and Diaghilev was dissatisfied with Rimsky- 
Korsakov’s version of it. 

The work of reconstruction was divided between Stravinsky and Ravel. 



THE RUSSIAN BAIXET l^JZ’-ZZ ZOy 

Stravinsky undertook to write the new chorus for the finale and to deal 
with two other numbers. The rest of the opera was allotted to Ravel. 

The new versiouj as it turned out, apart from the new finale, did not 
differ substantially from Rimsky-Korsakov’s. Occasional cuts were made 
and various alterations in the order of scenes, but the result, says Stravin- 
sky in his Chronicle of My Life, was an incongruous mixture of different 
styles. 

After this London season of April, 1913, the Russian Ballet sailed for 
South America. Both the directors, Diaghilev and Gunsburg, were to ac- 
company the troupe, but soon after sailing, the cabin booked by Diaghilev 
(No. 60) which adjoined that of Nijinsky, was discovered to be empty, 
Diaghilev having been unable to overcome his dread of the sea. 

Benois, the artistic manager, also remained behind, his place being 
taken by Bakst. 

In September, the Ballet made its debut in Buenos Aires, Pierre Mon- 
teux conducting, and received a tremendous ovation. The stars were 
Nijinsky, Karsavina and Feodorova. One other dancer came to the fore, 
A. Gavrilov, and since he frequently deputized for Nijinsky, was often 
mistaken for him and rewarded with the same frantic applause. 

Massine as ballet master 

Nineteen-fourteen opened inauspiciously for the Russian Ballet, since 
after Diaghilev’s telegram to Nijinsky, stating that the Russian Ballet 
had no further need for his services, the Company was left without a 
ballet master. 

Meanwhile, the former had returned to Russia. In St, Petersburg he 
met Jacques Rouch6, former director of the Theatre des Arts, who played 
so great a part in the reform of the French stage. Rouche, preparatory to 
assuming his duties as Director of the Paris Opera, in 1914, was visiting 
Europe and Russia. The stage of the latter was particularly interesting to 
him. He was Diaghilev’s friend, he never missed a rehearsal or perform- 
ance of the Russian Ballet in Paris. Serge Pavlovitch was accustomed to 
say that of all his colleagues (the theater managers) he respected Rouche 
alone for his outstanding merits. It was during this stay in St. Petersburg 
that Diaghilev engaged the artist of the Imperial Theater, Vladimirov. 

In Moscow he met Massine, then a youth and strikingly handsome, 
who, recently graduated from the Imperial Theater Schools, was aban- 
doning the ballet, in order to take up a dramatic career. Meanwhile, he 
continued to figure in the corps de bcdlet of the Moscow Grand Theater, 
and Diaghilev was able to persuade him to join his company in Monte 
Carlo. 

For seven years he was the Russian Ballet’s sole ballet master, and 
was never entirely to break his connection with it. Though Diaghilev 
freely admitted iSffassine’s great talent, yet there were times when he 



SERGE DIAGHELEV 


208 

found the results frankly disappointing. All the same, he sought his col- 
laboration time and again. 

Massine had not been long in Europe, before Diaghilev and Larionov 
set themselves the task of completing his artistic and choreographic educa- 
tion, Larionov being his professor of ballet (in this second epoch, the 
influence of the painters -was particularly preponderant) while Diaghilev 
took him to study under Cecchetti, and to visit the museums. This double 
influence of Cecchetti the traditionalist, and Larionov the dilettante-mod- 
ernist, has meant that Massine is always oscillating between two opposed 
tendencies which, often in the same ballet, predominate turn and turn 
about. 

According to Diaghilev, it was in Florence, during the war, that he 
at last succeeded in, fanning into flame “that essential though indefinable 
something which made the creator in Massine,” adding, however, “for 
all too short a time, alas!” These words he wrote in 1924, at a moment 
of profound disillusionment with Massine the creator; for now his work 
seemed to him mechanical, obvious, cold and uninspired, as did the man . 
Indeed, he was ready to place all his misfortunes at Massine’s door, from 
his poverty in Portugal and Spain, to the diabetes which was finally to 
prove his destruction. 

Of all the friends Diaghilev had known and loved, there were but 
few to whom he owed such moments of happiness or anguish as to 
Massine. Those near Diaghilev remember still, how in 1917, in Rome, 
during a stormy scene with Massine, he tore the telephone from the 
wall and shattered it on the ground, and how, in his uncontrollable rages, 
he would smash the furniture in his room 

But this aspect of their relationship only developed very much later, 
and in 1914-15 Diaghilev was still awaiting miracles of art from his 
friend. 

Expectations or no expectations, it became clear on Massine’s arrival 
in Monte Carlo, that he was as yet far too young and inexperienced to be 
able, even with Diaghilev’s immediate help, to work out the choreog- 
raphy of a whole ballet. The result was that the dance numbers in Stravin- 
sky’s Rossignolj the scenery and costumes of which had been designed by 
Benois, were entrusted to Romanov. Since, however, it was obvious that 
the Russian Ballet could hardly bolster itself up with this single opera, 
Diaghilev saw himself forced to turn once more to Fokine. 

Working at full speed, Fokine planned out the choreography of four 
new ballets: the dim Midas, with music by Steinberg and scenery and 
costumes by Dobuzhinsky (never revived, and soon forgotten), a revival 
of Schumann’s Papillons, orchestrated by N. N. Tcherepnine, the scenery 
by Dobuzhinsky and costumes by Bakst, La LSgende de Joseph, this too 
never revived, and Le Coq d'Or. 

La LSgende de Joseph, to a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and 
Count Kessler, with music by Richard Strauss (Diaghilev paid a hun- 





.& 


M. M. Fokine 


Leonid Massine 




THE RUSSIAN BAIXET J^12.-ZZ Z09 

dred thousand gold francs for it), decors by Sert and costumes by Bakst, 
was especially produced to exhibit the young Massine to the best advan- 
tage, but it was more his beauty than his art to which he owed his suc- 
cess. As ballet, however, the Ugende lacked distinction, being restricted 
to a sort of miming of the libretto, accompanied by Strauss’s dynamic 
music. Indeed, in Paris, the leading part, that of Potiphar’s wife, was in 
fact taken by a singer — Maria Kusnetzova. This season, therefore, in Paris 
as in London, proved somewhat colorless and dim, for Fokine had failed 
to reveal the least spark of originality, and Diaghilev thus lost all fur- 
ther interest in him. 

The one success, though even that did not pass uncriticized, a success 
which cost Diaghilev a lawsuit with Rimsky-Korsakov’s heirs, was 
Coq d*Or, which may jusdy be said to have saved the season. This pro- 
duction, inspired by Benois, contained a number of original features, from 
the decors and costumes by N. Goncharova, very different from Bakst’s 
orgies of color (with Goncharova and Sert new decorative trends began 
to appear in the Ballet), to the double cast of dancers and singers. Thus, 
the vocalists stood motionless on the stage, while the “mimes and 
dancers” rendered the dramatic action. 

This wedding of the dance to vocal music (and choral singing in par- 
ticidar) had already been employed very successfully by the Russian 
Ballet in the production of Daphnis and Chloe, and was to be freely re- 
sorted to in after years, perhaps most happily in Milhaud’s Saladc, I 
myself have observed that dancing always goes better to choral singing, 
possibly because the chorus itself was once a mass of singing dancers. 

In lie Coq d’Or we see Fokine drawing the major part of his inspira- 
tion from the principles worked out by Diaghilev and Nijinsky, and 
applying them to the rhythmic gymnastics developed by Dalcroze. The 
whole rendering is therefore rather a form of miming than actual danc- 
ing. Indeed, the dancing in this ballet was perhaps its least interesting 
feature. Prince Volkonsky, for instance, though a fervent admirer of 
Dalcroze’s eurhythmies, could not but admit to some disillusion on 
seeing this experiment of Fokine’s, who, he thought, had failed to utilize 
the possibilities of the score’s basic rhythms, whereas the m i m i n g exaedy 
followed the pattern of the music. 

In this way, dancing b^;an more and more to subjugate itself to music, 
and with the advent of Massine, that subjection became complete. Not 
idly did he state, during his first choreographic efforts, that dancing must 
be considered the visual counterpoint of music. 

The War Years 

Suddenly war broke out, and the Russian Ballet all but ceased to exist. 
In those awful years, Europe had no use for the Ballet, and neither 
London nor Paris saw the Ballet during 1915 and 1916. The company 



210 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

scattered to the four winds, and there was every doubt whether the mem- 
bers could ever be reassembled. Thus, in 1915, when Diaghilev signed 
his contract with the Metropolitan Opera House for a New York season, 
and committed himself to presenting the whole of his company, Fokine, 
Karsavina, Nijinsky included, it proved impossible to procure either 
Karsavina or Fokine, both of whom were retained in Russia, Fokine for 
military service. After endless trouble, however, he did finally manage to 
“borrow” Nijinsky, held at the time in Austria as a civil prisoner of war, 
and eventually succeeded in gathering together not only a company, but 
such ma gnifi cent new dancers as Nemchinova, Sokolova, Makletzov, Idzi- 
kowsky, Woizikowsky, etc. Lydia Lopokova was engaged as prima bal- 
lerina, ably supported by Tchernicheva, and Diaghilev*s friend, Ansermet, 
became the Ballet’s new conductor. 

We know little of Diaghilev’s life in Florence and Rome at this time, 
but that it was a difl&cult time both emotionally and financially, we know 
from what Stravinsky has told us, in his Chronicle of My Ufe, of his 
visits to him during this period. 

The war and the consequent dispersal of nearly all the members of 
his company, had thoroughly disturbed Diaghilev’s plans. He felt the 
vital need of comfort, encouragement and advice. Diaghilev would never 
listen to advice in artistic matters from his friends, but, in times of pro- 
found depression such as these, demanded the presence of friends and 
relied absolutely on their support. 

By the time that Stravinsky visited Rome, in the winter of 1914, 
Diaghilev had created for himself a wide circle of friends and acquaint- 
ances — 2l protection, in a sense, against the difficulties of the world and 
a new basis for his existence. There was Gerald Tyrwhitt, later Lord 
Berners, who became a great friend of Diaghilev and was commissioned 
by him in 1926 to write the music for The Triumph of Neptune. 
Diaghilev indeed had the highest admiration for his work. Another new 
figure was Prokofiev. He had come from Russia — ^at Diaghilev’s com- 
mand — ^to discuss the composition of a new ballet. This was the ballet 
Chout, which I shall discuss more fuUy later on. 

From Rome, Diaghilev went to Ouchy, still in the same year. There, 
he began his negotiations with America, and set about preparing his 
forthcoming season. 

About this time, a charity performance in aid of the Red Cross was 
presented by the Ballet in Geneva, the program consisting of Carnaval, 
UOiseau de Feu, and a new ballet, adapted from Rimsky-Korsakov’s 
Snow-Maiden^ entitled Soleil de Nuit, The decor and costumes by Lario- 
nov were markedly Russian and futurist, and in this ballet Massine made 
his debut as chore-author. Another ballet, Uturgie, sketched out by Mas- 
sine at this time, was never produced. 

Diaghilev also organized a gala charity performance in Paris, on De- 
cember 29th, which was opened by Felia Litvin singing the Russian na- 



211 


THE RXJSSIAJSr BALLET 1 ^ 12-22 

tional anthem, followed by songs by Mussorgsky and Rachmaninov. 
Stravinsky conducted his own UOiseau de Feu, while the other ballets, 
consisting of Schehirazade , La Princesse Enchantie, the pas de deux from 
La Belle au Bois Dormant, Soleil de LLuit, in which Massine enjoyed a 
deservedly great success, and Prince Igor, were conducted by Ansermat. 
Four hundred thousand gold francs were taken, a remarkable total. 

Tours in America 

Bad times, however, were in store for Diaghilev, and it was not with- 
out much apprehension that he eventually left Bordeaux, en route for 
America. 

His situation was now such that it was absolutely indispensable for 
bi'm to sail — ^and so he sailed. It may be wondered how, with his mortal 
dread of the sea, he eventually landed safe and sound, for the crossing 
was nothing but a long martyrdom, since all through the voyage he 
remained shut, for the most part, in his cabin, wearing his overcoat and 
hat-j with three life-belts strapped to his body — such was his fear of Ger- 
man submarines — and moaning the whole time in a voice that was 
scarcely human. His only moments of relief were when the faithful 
Vassili sank to his knees and prayed for a happy ending to their journey. 
Throughout the voyage Diaghilev was able neither to eat, to drink, to 
sleep or even talk Indeed, the i&rst day at sea saw him a complete nerv- 

ous wreck, and yet day followed day till the crossing seemed endless! Look 
where he might, there was never anything but the illimitable ocean, with 
not a ship, not a reassuring speck of land in sight. His whole being 
yearned for terra hrma, now and at once, yet every moment drew him 
farther from it. Yes, indeed, it may be wondered how he landed safe and 
sound! 

This New York season prolonged itself from January until May, 1916, 
and was received with an enthusiasm quite unique in the annals of the 
American stage. That enthusiasm grew even greater when Nijinsky ar- 
rived in April, but the meeting of the two friends left much to be desired. 
Serge Pavlovitch made every ejffort to restore the old friendly footing 
with his Vaslav, but the dancer’s wife was forever present, setting them 
by the ears, inventing idiotic lawsuits, treating Diaghilev with intentional 
rudeness, and doing aU in her power to poison his American visit. It 
was a moment when Nijinsky was all on fire to produce his ballets (and 
indeed, they were entirely his')^ Tyl Bulenspiegel to the music of Strauss, 
and Mephisto to the music of Lizst. Romola Nijinsky describes this 
moment in the following words:* 

“Then Vaslav began to speak to him about his new compositions, Tyl 
and Mephisto, but Diaghilev showed no interest. ‘It can’t be worth much 
if it’s German music.’ 

“ ‘But it’s Richard Strauss, whose music you yourself produced a year 



2.1 Z SERGE DIAGHH-EV 

and a half ago/ I ventured. ‘Well, times have changed; the war is on 
and in any case Strauss, c'est du cabotinage!” 

Whatever the truth about Diaghilev’s opinion of Strauss, one thing 
is certain, namely that Diaghilev showed no interest whatever in these 
new productions of one whom he himself admittedly considered a 
choreographer of genius. From his point of view, doubtless, this genius 
could only manifest itself when Diaghilev and Bakst were present to 
shore him up: lacking such support, it could “not be worth much.” In 
any case, Diaghilev never saw this ballet, which was put on, and passed 
almost unnoticed, during the following year, while Nijinsky was acting 
as artistic manager to the company in America. During this period his 
partners were Spessiva, who had come from Russia as a great artist, and 
a new Cleopatra, who won golden opinions, the Swiss ballerina, MUe. 
Revalles. 

Meanwhile, Diaghilev and Massine had gone off to Italy and to Spain, 
where the whole latter part of the year was spent, save for rare excur- 
sions to Italy. By this time, the new artistic trends were firmly ensconced 
in the Ballet, and after 1916 Diaghilev entrusted every new decor to 
Goncharova, Larionov and Sert. At this moment he was all for simplify- 
ing both scenery and costumes. Goncharova began work on the decors 
for Triana and Espanat while Massine began to sketch out the dances. 
Nevertheless, neither of these ballets was ever completed, and only the 
former’s d^cor for Sad\o eventually saw the footlights. Meanwhile, Lario- 
nov was busily engaged on the d^cor for Ravel’s Histoires 'Naturelles, 
the whole being presented against moving scenery, but without dances. 
One single ballet was created in the course of this season, Eas Meninas 
to music by Faur^ decor by Socrate and costumes by Sert. This ballet 
made its debut at San Sebastian in 1916, but was not shown in Paris 
until the year after. In 1918, considerably amplified by the addition of 
excerpts from Chabrier and Ravel, it was renamed The Gardens of 
Aranjuez, and presented again in Paris. During part of 1917, Diaghilev 
was in Spain, while his company toured the United States. This tour 
covered an immense amount of territory and lasted from October, 1916, 
until February, 1917. 


The Spaniard, Felix 

Among the patrons, and even fervent admirers, of his Ballet, Diaghilev 
numbered King Alfonso, who almost deemed it a point of honor to be 
present at every performance, and often, at times, attended rehearsals. 
Two cultures, one Russian, the other Spanish, dis similar though they 
were, but impregnated with the very soul of dancing, now came together 
to their mutual benefit. The creative, the educative influence of Spain on 
Massine is particularly noticeable. As I have already stated, two opposing 



THE RUSSIAN BAJLLET l^IZ-ZZ 21 3 

tendencies ruled in Massine, one the academism of Cecchetti, the other 
the dilettante-modernism of Larionov. But to these must be added a third, 
and no less important: that of the Spaniard, Felix. 

‘‘During the Ballet’s Spanish, season Massine had been taking lessons 
from Felix, an expert performer of national dances,” writes Karsavina. 
“Felix had been brought over to London to continue these lessons,® and 
Diaghilev wishing to give me inspiration for my novel role, asked me to 
come and see Felix dance at the Savoy. It was fairly late when, after 
supper, we went downstairs to the ballroom and Felix began. I fol- 
lowed him with amazed admiration, breathless at his outward reserve 
when I could feel the impetuous half-savage instincts within him. He 
needed no begging, he gave us dance after dance, and sang the guttural 
nostalgic songs of his country, accompanying himself on the guitar. I 
was completely carried away, forgetful that I was sitting in an ornate 
hotel ballroom till I noticed a whispering group of waiters around us. It 
was late, very late. The performances must cease, or they would be com- 
pelled to put the lights out A warning flicker, and the lights went 

out. Felix continued like one possessed. The rhythm of his steps, now 
staccato, now languorous, for a time faint, and then seeming to fill the 
large room with thunder, made the unseen performance all the more 
dramatic. Against such possession all hotel officials were powerless. We 
listened to the dancing enthralled.” ® 

To these interesting and moving reminiscences, I can add Diaghilev’s 
no less moving account of Felix’s first and last days with the Russian 
Ballet. No epilogue could be more tragic, and Serge Pavlovitch would 
never allude to it without the profoundest sadness. 

Some time in 1917, Diaghilev and Massine happened to be witnessing 
a competition for Spanish dancers in one of the squares of Seville. A 
n umb er of dancers were present, many of them highly accomplished, for 
Spain is full of excellent dancers. Their picturesque clothing, haughty 
bearing and distinctive carriage, their marvelous pas, all elicited stormy 
expressions of delight from the crowd and cognoscenti. Suddenly a youth- 
ful, wild-looking Andalusian pushed his way to the front, rolled up his 
shirt-sleeves and the legs of his trousers and — ^turning pale as death and 
clenching his teeth. — began to dance the farnicca. It was Felix, and, such 
was his performance, that there and then the verdict acclaimed him the 
best dancer in Spain. 

Whereupon Diaghilev ravished him from Spain, and enlisted him in 
the Russian Ballet. Alas! his brilliant victory in that Seville square was 
to be his first and last triumph in life, for soon he was absorbed in the 
corps de ballet, dancing what he was told, and teaching Spanish dances 
to Massine. The end of his ballet career was particularly tragic. It hap- 

® 1919. 

® Karsavina. Theatre Street, pp. 301-2.. 



214 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

pened in London, soon after the episode Elarsavina describes. Massine and 
Felix were collaborating together on the production of The Three-Cor- 
nered Hat, in which the Spaniard was to dance his famous farmcca. 
The posters, however, bore only Massine’s name as the ballet’s creator, 
and such was the impression this made upon Felix’s mind that, having 
arrived at the theater for the premise, he then rushed wildly away, 
pushed himself through one of the windows of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, 
which he had mistaken for a cabaret because of the red light over the 
porch, and .there, in front of the altar, began to dance his farrucca. Serge 
Pavlovitch could never recall the episode without the same terror and 
dismay, and always reproached himself for allowing himself to pass the 
wording of that poster. To the very day of his death, he went on visiting 
Felix in the asylum. 

The 1917 Tarh Season: the Cocfeau-Picasso ^^Parade^’ 

Nineteen-seventeen was to prove a year full of activity in the Russian 
Ballet, for, beginning with Rome, Naples and Florence, it moved on, 
after a rest of some months, to Paris, thence to Barcelona and Madrid, 
and later to South America. 

Meanwhile, helped by Diaghilev, Massine prepared three new ballets, 
to which Diaghilev added a symphonic tableau by Stravinsky, Feu 
d' Artifice, with scenery by Balia. Tliese new ballets were Les Femmes 
de Bonne Humeur by Scarlatti-Tommasini (adapted from Goldoni’s 
comedy), Contes Russes by Liadov, and Parade by Cocteau-Picasso-Satie, 
all manifesting the new directions in which Diaghilev was moving. Les 
Femmes de Bonne Humeur and Contes Russes were created in Rome and 
Naples, and comic and gay as they were, enjoyed a great reception in 
Italy. ^ ' 

The main attraction of th^ Paris season, however, was the Cocteau-Satie 
Parade, the scenery and costumes being by a new genius in the art of 
simplification, Pablo Picasso. A close friendship developed between the 
two men, and thenceforth Picasso’s influence on the Ballet assumed an 
importance only comparable with that of his predecessors, Benois and 
Bakst. Jean Cocteau, the author of the argument, was one of the earliest 
of the Ballet’s collaborators in France, and composed literally hundreds 
of the Ballet’s first posters and program articles. It was he, too, who in- 
vented the story of Le Dieu Blue, 

With Parade, Cocteau’s influence over Diaghilev was established firmly 
(the former was then the moving spirit in *'Les Six"^) — and Diaghilev 
was persuaded to ask Satie for the score. In a little, Cocteau’s position was 
unassailable, and, as one of the “inner circle,” he managed to wield great 
influence over the choreography of the new ballets. 

Diaghilev, from the very beginning of their friendship, realized the 

A group of young, advanced French musicians. (Ed.) 





Jean Cocteau 


Jean Louis Vaudoyer 


Boris E. Kokhiio 


Sacheverell Sitwell 






THE RUSSIAN BAIXET 1912-ZZ ZI5 

genius in Cocteau, and was perpetually seeking some new, some surpris- 
ing revelation. Thus, he would ever and again urge his poet: 

"Jean, itonne mot" 

And Jean would oblige, and “amaze” Diaghilev. Indeed, this constant 
urge from Diaghilev towards new and original discoveries kept Cocteau 
stimulated, and prevented his lingering over what was already dis- 
covered- 

Massine’s “finds” in Parade, and in the bailed which succeeded it, de- 
rive directly from Cocteau, as does its literariness and circus stylization. 
The time bad come for literature, too, to have its say in the ballet, since 
painting and music had each had their turn. All this, which is now the 
usual currency of the ballet, was invented by Cocteau for Parade, every 
pas of which he suggested and knew by heart. 

The Moscow Imperial Ballet, Diaghilev, Larionov, Cecebetti, Felix, 
Picasso and Cocteau are the varied influences which went to create the 
ideology of Massine’s dancing, and helped to develop his undoubtedly 
most individual talent. 

Meanwhile, Guillaume Apollinaire had made himself responsible for 
converting the Paris public to Parade. The result was an article published 
in the program, entitled "Parade and the New Spirit.” I cannot do better 
than quote some excerpts: 

“It is a scenic poem, for which Erik Satie has written music exceedingly 
clear, simple and expressive, music which it would be impossible not to 
recognize as the pure transparent air of our France. 

“The cubist painter, Picasso, and the most audacious of choreographers, 
Massine, have made that music concrete, by bringing about, for the first 
time, that imion of painting and dancing, of plastic form and miming, 
which establishes the precursive signs of a yet completer art. . . . 

“This new union, for so far the decors and costumes on one hand, the 
choreography on the other, have been linked only superficially, gives to 
Parade a semblance of surrealism, in which I see the beginnings of that 
New Spirit which, having now found an opportunity of expressing itself, 
cannot fail to tempt the elect, or radically change the arts and costumes of 
humanity, since reason demands that they at least must keep pace with 
scientific and industrial progress 

“All in all. Parade must modify the ideas of many of its spectators. 
They will be surprised, but in the most agreeable of fashions, and, 
charmed, wfll learn to love the grace of these new movements, a grace 
they have never suspected. , . 

But though the ballet was entering a new phase, Diaghilev was care- 
ful not to break too suddenly with everything on which the Russian 
Ballet had been built. Thus, in the same program as Parade we see 
him producing Liadov’s Contes Pusses with scenery and costumes by 
Larionov, who certainly aspired, however unsuccessfully, to be a Rus- 
sian Picasso, and Les Femmes de Bonne Humeur with scenery by Bakst. 



Zl6 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

Thus, without repudiating his ancient path, now fully explored, 
Diaghilev courageously sought out newer and more modern forms of ex- 
pression, in the conviction that it was futile to go on repeating himself. 
Thus ClSopdtray Schihdrazadcy Fetrouch\a, might be said to be funda- 
mental to the ballet, while any echo of them would certainly not be. . . . 
We even find him, in 1928, wanting to modernize Schiherazade by in- 
troducing new d&ors by Matisse. 

Effects of the Kussian Revolution 

But now occurred an event which swept off its feet, not only the whole 
of the advanced Russian intelligentsia, but Diaghilev himself, conserva- 
tive though he was in politics, and revolutionary only in the mind: the 
Russian Revolution. In consequence, the red flag made its appearance 
on the French stage, in UOiseau de Eeu. 

Whereupon Leon Bailby wrote to Serge Pavlovitch, on May 12th, as 
follows: 

“Dear M. Diaghilev, 

“Will you allow me to call your attention to the trifling incident of 
yesterday, anent the changes introduced into the setting of UOiseau de 
Feu and the apparition of the red flag, symbolizing the Russian Revolu- 
tion, Believe me, I write on no personal grounds, since it is no longer 
a question of a charity performance in which my friends were interested, 
and since, in the same charity performance you are giving next Friday 
on behalf of the same cause, UOiseau de Feu does not appear in the pro- 
gram. I believe, however, that you intend giving this same ballet as a 
commercial production, and so I must warn you that a considerable por- 
tion of French society, in the person of its upper classes, were, at yes- 
terday’s matinee, disagreeably impressed by an exhibition, which at best 
they deemed poindess, since it seemed quite out of place in a ballet, and 
could only appear to challenge their most honorable feelings. 

“They are perfectly ready, they say, to acclaim the tricolor Russian 
flag, representing the Russian Republic. It is not therefore any reactionary 
motive which makes them feel thus, but they deem it unnecessary to 
glorify a popular revolution on the French stage, at a moment when it 
threatens to lead Russia into paths which, without perhaps helping it, 
may prove, to Frenchmen, definitely hostile. 

“The people who, yesterday, scrupulously refrained from protesting, 
in order to avoid any turmoil which might have involved those respected 
figures under whose patronage the performance was given are of a mind, 
when the production is public and commercial, to express their feelings 
with the utmost clarity, should the red flag again appear on the stage. 

“Allow me to state in all frankness, that I do not believe that the news- 
paper reports which are likely to follow will be in your favor. And does 




Lifar, Nouvel, and Diaghilev at Venice, 1926 





THE RUSSIAN BAIXET X^IZ-ZZ ZZy 

it not seem ratlier dangerous to you, to afEront all the many diflSculties 
which such an action may create, even to the point, possibly, of further 
performances being prohibited? It is not that I mean to exaggerate any- 
thing, but merely wish to point out some very real dangers. I add that, 
on every occasion when you have come to France, such favor as was 
shown you has come from above: it was Society which made your suc- 
cess, and spread it litde by little among a wider public. It is that same 
Society from which the greater part of your large takings come. Will 
you, from your point of view, as a free and independent artist, yet one 
bound to consider matters from a businesslike view — ^will you deem it 
to your interest to quarrel definitely with those who constitute the ma- 
jority of your clients? 

“Please believe me to be your cordial admirer, 

“Leon Bailby.” 

The only result of this incident, therefore, was this unpleasant letter; 
but soon Diaghilev, like all Russians living abroad in 1917-18, was to be 
subjected to infinitely worse, for after the peace of Brest-Litovsk, signed 
by the Bolsheviks, all sorts of accusations were hurled at the Russians, 
who, without exception, were now the objects of a common hatred. 
Every sacrifice made by the Russians, not omitting that disastrous of- 
fensive against East Prussia, when Russia so wilHngly ofiered herself 
to the German thrust to relieve the pressure on Paris, all the three long 
years of war in a common cause, were forgotten in an instant: and there 
were even those who spat in the faces of Russian officers who had fought 
in the ranks of the French. Thus, though material obstacles made it im- 
possible for Diaghilev to bring his ballet to Paris in the spring of 1918, 
morally too it was equally impossible for one who from 1906 to 1914 had 
come to it as a conqueror. 

Success of ^^Les Femmes de Bonne Humeur^^ 

Nevertheless, the Ballet continued to enjoy a certain degree of artistic 
success, but a success infini tely more subdued, and far removed from the 
frantic enthusiasm which had greeted the first productions. Most suc- 
cessful of all was JLes Femmes de Bonne Humeurj and even so rabid an 
adversary of the ballet as Levinson, wrote of it: 

“. . . The inspiration of this humorous ballet is so fundamentally adroit, 
the execution so homogeneous and free from constraint, the whole so 
well composed that I freely surrendered myself to the sweetness of living 
that exquisite hour of forgetfulness. Did one wish to resist, one is seized 
from the first notes of Scarlatti’s music, husded along by the agile and 
sly rhythm which draws us within its magic circle. You drink deeply of 
that music, which resembles distilled sunshine. It froths, dazzles, and 



ZlB SERGE DIAGHTLEV 

intoxicates; it is a fine vintage. For imaginary background, that great 
setting sun of the i8th century in which Venice is drowsily expiring. 

“Doubtless Lawyer Goldoni would have accepted the authorship of 
the mimed scenes devised by Massine, and Theophile Gautier would have 
added some stanzas in his honor to his Variations sur le Camaval: these 
are the natural, spiritual fathers of this fleeting vision. But do not imagine 
rhis to be a reconstruction, a pastiche of the inimitable past: quite the 
contrary, it is a living and original work, where the past only appears in 
the form of a distant suggestion, an echo softened by the passing of 
centuries. 

“The choreography combines a sense of delicacy with a feeling of fit- 
ness in which the laws of the classic dance are only rarely abrogated, its 
normal movements distorted and parodied, heightened and dispersed by 
the rhythm. Because all the varied, hurried episodes of this comedy, so 
full and so gay, are realized in music, are misurati as Salvatore Vigano, 
the master of choreo drama, would have said. And one feels what a 
source of humorous surprises can spring from the rhythmic execution of 
the trivial and realistic movements of everyday life. As to the conforma- 
tion of gesture, that paradox of players juggling with imaginary prop- 
erties is really most enjoyable. 

“The execution is full of go: you see artists who yesterday clumped in 
the Sacre happy to dance 'Les Femmes de Bonne Humeur: they are as 
much amused as we are.” 

A note in the program to the same ballet added: 

“The painter, Bakst, and Leonid Massine, have together created a pro- 
duction which though ultra-modern, nevertheless derives directly from 
the i8th century. With these decors, Bakst the painter has taken the first 
steps towards annihilating stage perspective.” ® 

Captivity in Spain 

The Paris season ended, the Russian Ballet returned to Spain, and 
thence left for a tour in South America, though without Diaghilev and 
Massine, who were enjoying an Italian holiday. Towards the end of the 
year the whole company reassembled in Brussels, after which it left for 
Barcelona and Madrid, and again for Lisbon. This final season began 
with the greatest hopes, but was soon brought to a close by the Portuguese 
Revolution. Diaghilev and the company were caught in a trap, and 
were soon in an intolerable moral, and worse material situation. Soon 
funds came utterly to an end, and diey were often the vicitims of real 
and pressing hunger. Serge Pavlovitch would never recall this epoch 
without reluctance and, when he did, spoke of it as the most disastrous 
period of his life. His fighting energy was ebbing fast, he was often on 
the verge of complete despair, and seemed to be living in a perpetual 

®I.i£ir. BdUet, Traditional to Modem, p. 172. 



THE RUSSIAN BA3LLET l^JZ-ZZ ZI 9 

Stupor. Somehow or other Diaghilev finally managed to scramble out o£ 
it all into Spain. Here the general position remained much as before, 
except that at least a gleam of daylight began to appear. Work was re- 
sumed with Massing and at last Lcs Jardins d'Aranjuez was produced in 
Madrid. 


A year in "London 

Fortunately, the London Coliseum invited Diaghilev to open an au- 
tumn season, but some time was still to elapse before Serge Pavlovitch 
could manage to extricate himself from Spain. In an article he wrote for 
this London season, we find him saying: 

“The war has put an end to those wonderful seasons, and after the 
separate peace of Brest-Litovsk, we Russians were wanted so litdc that 
we were shut up for almost a year in Spain. 

“The King of Spain, godfather of the Russian Ballet, as he has so named 
himself, went to considerable personal trouble to get permission for us 
to appear in England. But it was necessary for us to have a London con- 
tract. Beecham was dead. I have accepted the invitation of Sir Oswald 
Stoll, and though I have never found that music halls provided a favor- 
able setting for my productions, nevertheless I am grateful to Sir Oswald 
for having come to our aid at a time when politics had put such serious 
obstacles in the path of an institution as unimportant politically as a com- 
pany of dancers. 

Thus, after an infinity of complications, the company found itself in 
London, and was able, in September, to begin presenting a number of 
ballets, among which may be mentioned Cleopdtra, for which new decors 
and costumes were designed by R. Delaunoy, Bakst’s sets being destroyed 
by fire in the course of the South American tour. 

Here the Ballet remained a whole year, at first appearing in the London 
Coliseum with Defosse and Ansermat conducting, and then leaving for 
a few performances in Mandbester. In April they were back again in 
London at the Alhambra, and after September at the Empire. But now 
the Russian Ballet, which had almost seemed on the point of expiring in 
Portugal and Spain, seemed to take on a new lease of life, and even to 
change its character. Work went feverishly forward. Massine was busy 
with La Boutique Fantasque, to music by Rossini, orchestrated by 
Respighi, which, based on academic dancing, was perhaps his most suc- 
cessful comic ballet. In collaboration with his professor, Felbs^ he was also 
at work on a ballet with a Spanish setting. The Three-Cornered Mat? 
Meanwhile, Bakst was making the maquettes and costumes for the pas 
de deux taken from the Tchaikovsky-Petipa The Sleeping Beauty, and 
those for UOiseau et le Prince, Derain was preparing the decors, etc., for 
La Boutiqtte Fantasque, and Picasso those for The Three-Cornered Mat. 
Karsavina had also returned to the company and was instilling it with 

® Le Tricorne, 



2,20 


SERGE DIAGHILEV 


new life. New vitality flowed into the Ballet — ^and into Diaghilev . . . and 
he no longer remembered how near he had come to abandoning it al- 
together. 

All these ballets made their debut in London, where they were received 
with the greatest appreciation, and later, all, with the exception of the 
fragment from The Sleeping Beauty^ were again presented at the Opera 
House in Paris, a season which continued through December, 1919, and 
January and February, 1920. During this period a new production, created 
by Massine, Le Chant du Bossignol, adapted from Stravinsky’s opera 
Te Rossignolj was also presented, with decors by Matisse, those originally 
provided by Bakst for the operatic work having gone astray during the 
war. This, with La Boutique Fantasque and The Three-Cornered Hat, 
were the only novelties presented in Paris that season. Later, the Ballet 
departed for the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, and there presented a number 
of performances. 

In 1920 regular and orderly work was resumed in Monte Carlo, as were 
those dazzKng London and Paris seasons, which, in 1917, had almost 
ended forever. Various new ballets were put into rehearsal for the forth- 
coming spring season in Paris. These included Pulcinella, a ballet with 
vocal parts after Pergolesi, adapted by Stravinsky, choreography by Mas- 
sine and decors by Picasso; the opera Le Astuzie Feminili (orchestrated 
by Respighi), choreography by Massine, and decors by Sert, and a new 
version by Massine of Le Sacre du PrintempSj'SUSwtx, and more dance- 
able, though less interesting, and, it must also be said, less original than 
the first. 

The creation of Pulcinella and Le Astuzie Feminili proves clearly the 
relentlessness of Diaghilev’s activity, even at a time when he seemed 
forced to be idle, since it was no light matter to collect the necessary ma- 
terial for his ballets and adapt it to his needs. Most of this work was 
done in Italy, in days and weeks spent rummaging through musty 
archives. 

Le Astuzie Feminili is of great interest in many ways, for it was com- 
posed by Cimarosa — ^late in the eighteenth century — on his return from 
Russia to his native Naples. The result is a profusion of Russian themes 
in an otherwise Italian opera.Though presented in Naples it soon fell into 
oblivion, the last performance having taken place in 1794. Diaghilev 
discovered the score, and got it re-orchestrated by Respighi, after which, 
some years later, it was converted into the ballet Cimarosiana, 

Even greater was die part played by Diaghilev in the creation of Pul- 
cinella. The successful use of Domenico Scarlatti’s music in Les Femmes 
de Bonne Humeur, encouraged Diaghilev to attempt a similar adapta- 
tion of the music of Pergolesi. Pergolesi, though as fertile a composer as 
any Italian of the eighteenth century, died prematurely at the age of 
fhirty, and it was perhaps for this reason that a relatively small propor- 
tion of his works saw the light. Diaghilev, however, during his frequent 



221 


THE RUSSIAN BAULET I912-22 

visits to Italy had discovered and examined a large number of Pergolesi 
manuscripts, many unfinished and all unpublished. These he had had 
copied. In Lrondon he found further material. The result was a magnifi- 
cent collection of the music of Pergolesi, which he handed over to 
Stravinsky to sift and adapt. 

The plot of the ballet was based on various traditional adventures of 
Pulcinella, one of the most famous of characters of the Commedia 
delVArte. The d&ors and costumes were entrusted to Picasso, the choreog- 
raphy to Massine. 

The production was worked out in Paris by Diaghilev, Picasso and 
Massine together. Stravinsky meanwhile was writing the score. As the 
music was to fit an elaborate, exact scenario, it proved necessary for him 
to go frequently to Paris for conferences with his three collaborators. 
These conferences, Stravinsky tells us in his Chronicle of My Life, often 
ended in passionate and stormy disagreement. 

From time to tim^ as was inevitable, there were misunderstandings 
that caused delay and irritation. In order to prevent unnecessary waste of 
time Stravinsky would send Massine a piano version of each part of the 
full score as he completed it. The plan was that once the shape and design 
of each scene had been determined, Stravinsky should compose the music, 
then Massine work out the details of the choreography from the install- 
ments of the piano arrangement sent by Stravinsky. 

This method of work had the most unfortunate result. His severest 
critics would not deny Stravinsky’s brilliance and originality in his use 
of the orchestra; but the more effective the scoriug, the more difl&cult to 
transcribe for the piano. Stravinsky himself considered it as difficult to 
transcribe a work for difierent instruments as to orchestrate it in its orig- 
inal form. In the case of Pulcinella, it frequently happened that Massine’s 
choreography, based on a hurriedly constructed piano arrangement, 
proved completely b^ond the capacity of the modest chamber orchestra 
for which the work was scored. 

There was only one solution. The choreography had to be modified 
to suit the character and scope of the music. But one can imagine the 
effect on the protagonists of such a contretemps. 

As in all his ballets, so in Pulcinella and Astuzie Feminili, it was 
Massine’s talents as a comedian that won him his greatest success. A 
diaracter-part dancer him self, he severely excluded from his ballets that 
restrained and severe "elevation,” that lyricism, of the old-time academic 
ballet. If one may talk of Massine’s "academism,” one might say that it 
consisted chiefly in his predilection for ballets of the pre-romantic epoch 
and that he restrained, and attenuated, his modernism, by dissecting both 
action and movement. In this respect, one cannot but concur with A. 
Levinson, when, writing of Pulcinella he said, very truly, that what char- 
acterized Massine was his “ironic approach to classicism.” 



Z2Z 


SERGE DIAlGHDJEV 


T>iaghilev^s breach with Massine 

In spite of the important part played by Massine in the life of the 
Ballet, it was this very year, 1920, which saw his severance from it, after 
a terrible scene with Diaghilev. 'Hius, Massine, escaped at last from 
Diaghilev’s "golden cage” and the Russian Ballet lost its ballet master. 
This "terrible scene,” as the words indicate, was an emotional one, and 
Massine was the prime mover in the quarrel. Apart from this, however, 
Diaghilev was already beginning to weary of Massine, whose inspiration 
appeared to him to be drying up, and who tended to repeat himself. For 
six years Massine had been choreographer to the Ballet, a period all too 
long in Serge Pavlovitch’s eyes, for he now feared that the Russian Ballet, 
after taking this fresh step forward, might again suffer a sort of petri- 
faction. It was of the utmost importance, therefore, for him to fi nd some- 
one to succeed Massine, though such a successor seemed impossible to 
discover. But when Massine left, no one at all seemed available to replace 
him, tinless one excepts the painter Larionov. 

The year 1921 opened with an important season in Spain, after which, 
the company having in the interim repaired to Monte Carlo, a number of 
gala performances was given in Paris at the Gatte Lyrique. More im- 
portant, however, were the spring and winter London seasons, that of 
June at the Prince’s Theatre, and that of November at the Alhambra. 

Of interest among the Paris productions was the Cuadro Flamenco, a 
suite of Andalusian dances, the decors by Picasso, and Prokofiev’s Le 
Bouton. The former consisted of eight separate numbers — “La Mala- 
guena,” “Tango Gitano,” "La Farruca,” two "Alegrias,” “Carrotin Gro- 
tesco,” “Carrotin Cdmico,” and “La Jota Aragonesa” performed by Span- 
ish dancers of both sexes. Choreographically, therefore, it cannot be said 
to have been created by the Russian Ballet. 

S. S. Prokofiev and ^^Le Bouffon” 

The case of Prokofiev’s Bouffon, however, was very different. Long 
before the war and revolution there had been much talk in the best 
musical circles of a new W under J^nd, Serge Prokofiev, then aged ten, 
whose praises were tirelessly sung by his professor, R. M. Gliere. This 
period of “wunderkindism” has left marked traces on all Prokofiev’s 
work, and no doubt it is responsible for the fact that, magnificent mu- 
sician though he is, his creative capacity has failed to keep pace with 
the promise shown by his early compositions. His Lot/e of the Three 
Oranges, for instance, won the highest approval in a certain circle of 
Russian musicians, but nevertheless in Russia, as in Western Europe, his 
name was unknown to the general public. 

Diaghilev was perfeedy justified, therefore, in claiming to have “dis- 






THE RUSSIAN BAXXET 1 ^ 1 1 - 2.2 22 ^ 

covered” Prokofiev, who, after infinite di£&culties, succeeded in escaping 
to Paris. Later on, his attitude to Bolshevik Russia changed, and he 
made every effort to convert Diaghilev to sympathy for the new regime. 
Diaghilev was inordinately proud o£ this “second” son o£ his, and o£ the 
fact that, thanks to his efforts, Europe had begun to admit his genius. 

Thus, from ipai, it is Prokofiev’s influence which begins to influence 
the Ballet, an influence which marches parallel with that of Stravinsky, 
less determinant though it was. 

Le Boufforij therefore, had always greatly interested Diaghilev, though 
much time was to elapse before it was finally decided to put it on. In- 
deed, the first discussions of the matter actually went back to 1915, when 
Diaghilev commissioned Prokofiev to compose the music for a ballet. 
In 1917 this music was completed, and in 1918 we find him writing to 
Serge Pavlovitch that from something hinted by Bolm he had got the 
impression that neither Diaghilev nor anyone else had imderstood in 
the least what he was driving at in his story about a buffoon. 

Even so, another three years were to elapse before this score left the 
darkness of Diaghilev’s portfolio. Indeed, it might never have done so, 
perhaps, but for Massine’s resignation, and the former’s need for a new 
ballet. Thereupon, so enthused was the painter Larionov by this score 
that he succeeded in persuading Diaghilev to entrust him, not only with 
the scenery and costumes, but also with the choreography, trusting only 
to the sole aid of the dancer Slavinsky for assistance. Naturally, this sort 
of dilettante choreography was unlikely to prove successful, but strange 
to say the production was not wholly and entirely a failure, for what 
saved it was the excellence of its music. 

^^The Sleeping Beauty” in 'London and resulting 
complications 

While Larionov was busy with Le BouQon, Diaghilev, with the utmost 
energy and devotion, was working at the production of that lovely and 
old-fashioned Tchaikovsky ballet — ^Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty, a ballet 
which, it may be said in passing, was shown only in London, and never 
in Paris, and which Diaghilev always considered his favorite ballet. In 
his determination to stage it as magnificently and as fully as possible, 
various themes were added from the NutcracJ{er Suite, together with 
new variations invented by Nijinska. Finally, after infinite discussions, 
Bakst began to design the d&ors and costumes,^® while Stravinsky in part 
re-orchestrated the score. This collaboration of Nijinsky’s sister, Bronis- 
lava, was made possible by her recent appearance in London, after a 
hazardous escape, in 1921, from Kiev. Having failed to make any satis- 
factory arrangement with Romanov in Bucharest, she met V. F. Nouvel 

originally Diaghilev had intended to entnxst this ballet to A. Benois, but the latter 
was nnable to leave Soviet Rusria. 



224 SBRGE DIAGHILEV 

in Paris, who brought her to London to see Diaghilev. In this manner the 
crisis was solved, and a new ballet master found. It may be remembered 
that she had formed part of the company in the earliest years of the 
Ballet’s existence. 

In spite, however, of the fact that Mme. Brianza-Carabosse and Spes- 
siva both appeared in this ballet, the latter being an especial favorite of 
London audiences, that Trefilova, Lopokova, Egorova and Nemchinova 
alternated in the part of Aurora, that their partners were dancers as ex- 
cellent as Vladimirov and Vilzak, the ballet did not prove the immense 
success Diaghilev had hoped. Indeed, certain portions proved unduly 
tedious and prolix, and it became clear that the day of the full-blown 
transformation-scene ballet was definitely ended. At the same time, 
Diaghilev had alienated the critics by his disrespectful references to 
Beethoven. Certain individual performances were as enthusiastically re- 
ceived as he could have -wished, but that alone could not make good 
the colossal expense of so insanely lavish a production. The result was 
that Diaghilev found himself completely bankrupt, and in the midst of 
a financial crisis remarkable even in the annals of the Russian Ballet. 
The London season ended in a complete fiasco, the company broke up, 
and Diaghilev was convinced that the days of the Ballet were finally 
ended. 

It was at this moment, exaedy as at other grave moments in his life, 
that Misia Sert came to his rescue by introducing Gabrielle Chanel, that 
poet of women’s fashions. Whereupon “Coco” Chanel manifested so 
much enthusiasm and faith in the Ballet’s world-wide artistic significance, 
that she herself advanced money sufficient, not only to support the Ballet, 
but to revive and develop it also. As a result, Diaghilev, who had been in 
the habit of recruiting his perpetually thinning ranks from English 
dancers such as Sokolova, Savina, etc., who then assumed Russian names, 
now decided to procure new dancers from Russia. But how was that to 
be managed For him to go to Soviet Russia in 1921-22 on such an errand 
was quite out of the question. Though he might possibly have entered it, 
leaving would have been a difierent matter. . . . "Lasciate ogni speranza 
voi ch'entratay Whereupon Nijinska (the new ballet master) began 
urging Diaghilev to send for some of her Kiev pupils, among whom was 
the present writer. Indeed, so eloquent was her praise that Diaghilev 
began to await the arrival of these extraordinary dancers with the greatest 
impatience. But almost a year was still to elapse before their arrival, it 
being no easy matter to step over the Soviet barbed wire . . . and then 
Diaghilev was to find himself cruelly disappointed. 

B. J5. Kokhno and his connection with the Kussian Ballet 

This same year a new personality, destined to play an important part 
in the life of the Ballet, entered Diaghilev’s existence. He again was one 



THE RUSSIAN BAIXET I^IZ-ZZ ZZS 

of Serge Pavlovitch’s discoveries — though hardly of die same order as 
Stravinsky or Prokofiev — ^his connection with the Ballet having begun 
as a result of his collaboration with Stravinsky in the composition of the 
libretto for the opera Mavra, I refer to Boris Kokhno, whose acquaintance 
Diaghilev made;, through Sudeikine^ some months after his break with 
Massine. For a time Diaghilev pinned great faith to Kokhno*s literary 
talent, took him to Rome to see Vyacheslav Ivanov, intended to publish 
his verses, and established him as regular librettist to the Ballet. Soon 
Kokhno had become one of the inner circle, and a member of Diaghilev’s 
“family.” For the rest of his life Kokhno remained deeply attached to 
Diaghilev, an atta chm ent very precious to the latter, and in many ways 
reciprocated. 

As I have said, Kokhno was the Ballet’s librettist, but he was also 
Diaghilev’s assistant and secretary, to whom was entrusted the general 
supervision of the Ballet’s productions. Serge Pavlovitch attaching much 
importance to his opinion. Kokhno’s influence on Balanchine was a very 
real one. Profiting by the fact that he had composed the librettos for 
most of the ballets presented between 1923 and 1929, he would even lay 
down the law to the dancers and corps de ballet in regard to choreog- 
raphy. Kokhno’s permanent attendance at rehearsals, his authoritarian 
suggestions and categorical demands, his somewhat haughty m an n er 
towards the members of the company, and his obvious intimacy with 
Diaghilev (he would “thou” him in public, and call him Seriozha), 
gave birth to many rumors that Kokhno was designated to succeed Serge 
Pavlovitch. And as the artists were, on the whole, somewhat afraid of 
Kokhno, and did not like him, considering that his influence contributed 
to Diaghilev’s aloofness, it was with some anxiety that they watched the 
“young sapling” preparing to take the place of the mighty old oak. 

The following year another collaborator appeared in the person of 
Prince Shervashidze, originally one of the stage designers to the Mariin- 
sky Theater in St. Petersburg, but now to be permanently attached to the 
Russian Ballet. 

Before this period the Ballet had never possessed its own stage de- 
signers, all its sets being painted from rough designs provided by various 
painters. Thus, among the many painters who had worked for the bal- 
let may be cited Allegri, Anisfeldt, the Polunins, Sapunov, Socrate (re- 
sponsible for the decors of the new production Sylphides)^ Charbe and 
Yaramitch. But frequently the final result would difEer considerably from 
the artist’s designs, since each scene-painter had his own method of 
working. Prince Shervashidze, however, “our dear little Prince” as 
Diaghilev, who was very fond of him, would often call him, would go 
to the greatest pains to reproduce the artists’ designs with the utmost 
fidelity. 



zzS 


SERGE DIA.GHILEV 


Summary of the 1922 season 

This year there is nothing particularly spectacular to relate in the history 
of the Ballet. Monte Carlo, some productions at the Theitre Mogador 
in Paris, a protracted tour in France and Belgium, make up the tale of 
the year’s achievements. Also, painful as Diaghilev found it, The Sleep- 
ing Beauty was abandoned for good, an injunction having been obtained 
forbidding the use of the scenery. Nevertheless, realizing all the risks 
attendant upon so lengthy and cumbrous a production, of a kind no 
longer suited to the taste of Western audiences, a change for which his 
other productions were partly responsible, he resolved to remodel the 
whole ballet as the one-act Manage d^Aurore, and to employ the scenery 
designed by Benois for he Pavilion d'Annide, Still in my possession is 
a shortened version of the piano score of The Sleeping Beauty showing 
the part played by Diaghilev in shortening it for his production. In its 
new form the ballet was exceedingly well received by the Parisian public, 
and became a permanent feature in the repertoire. 

Very different was the fate reserved for the two “real” novelties of the 
season, Stravinsky’s opera Mavra, with sets and costumes by Survage, and 
Stravinsky’s baUet he Renard, with sets and costumes by Larionov, for 
both met with little success, were never revived (except for my own 
production of he Renard in a quite different version) and were soon 
forgotten. Stravinsky alone remembered the first version of he Renard, 
and was completely satisfied with Nijinska’s interpretation of his score. 
Objectively speaking, however, this first effort of hers cannot be con- 
sidered very successful, since Nijinska’s talents as ballet master only 
reached their full development in the two succeeding years, 1923-24. 



CHAPTER XI 


THE LAST EPOCH 

1925 - 24 ; Nipnskd as choreographer 

I HAVE now brought this history of the Russian Ballet, necessarily so 
abridged that at times it appears to be merely a dry compilation of 
dates, tables and events, to the year 1923, which marks the beginning of 
its third and last epoch. In what has gone before, I have had the advan- 
tage of being able to utilize material gathered from Serge Pavlovitch’s 
own reminiscences and conversation, a copious Hterature, and what I 
myself found still surviving in the repertoire; for, though he sought 
restlessly for novelty, Diaghilev held to the ancient acquisitions, with the 
result that the Ballet’s heritage was perpetually growing. In this year, on 
January 13th, I first reached Paris and “moved in” at Diaghilev’s, from 
which moment I was a constant witness of, and participant in, the life 
of the Ballet. Subsequently, my life became so closely bound up with 
that of the Ballet, and of Diaghilev, that it is no longer possible for me 
to treat these matters objectively. I have therefore preferred to deal with 
the years 1923-29 in a separate section, in the form of my own remi- 
niscences. Only a summary account of the main events of these years, 
therefore, seems necessary here. 

In 1923, the peak-points reached by the Ballet were the Stravinsky- 
Goncharova-Nijinska production of Les Noces and the gala performance 
at Versailles, Les Noces being particularly interesting for the manner 
in which it reveals Nijinska’s neo-realistic trends, and her e 0 orts to 
eliminate all “elevation,” all the charming conventions of “classical danc- 
ing,” from the ballet, in order to replace them by a modernist dancing 
vernacular based on sport and “jazz.” In Les Noces it is as though 
Nijinska is seeking to bind her new choreography to the tradition laid 
down by her brother, though softening its harshness and angularity. As 
in all her succeeding ballets, one sees academic dancing turned wrong- 
side out in exactly the same way, and posture dominant in place of the 
dance pattern. Thus the new ballet was not so much dancing, as a Botti- 
cellian fresco expressed in motion: an incarnation of the Italian Renais- 
sance seen through Russian eyes. Yet the mass movements of the corps 
de bedlet were of the greatest beauty, and were immensely popular with 
the pubHc, Eminently successful also was the Versailles gala. 

Les Noces was the single novelty of this season, after which Diaghilev 

227 



SERGE DIAGHELEV 


Z2.8 

toured France, Spain and Holland, but omitted his usual appearance in 
London. In 1924, however, the London performances were resumed, with 
a veritable cornucopia of new creations: two operas by Gounod, pro- 
duced at Monte Carlo, with d&ors and costumes by Benois; Le MSdecin 
malgrS hui, and Philemon et Baucis, not to mention Colombe by the 
same composer; Chabrier’s UEducation ManquSe to decors by Juan Gris; 
a series of ballets designed by Nijinska, i.e., L£s Biches, music by Poulenc, 
decors by Marie Laurencin; Les Fdcheux, music by Auric, decors by 
Braque; hes Tentations de la Bergere, music by Monteclair, decors by 
Gris (rehearsed for the Versailles gala but not ready); L? Train Bleu, 
music by Milhaud, costumes by Chanel and d&or by Laurens, and the 
ballet version of Ltf Astuzie Feminili, to be known thereafter as Cimaro- 
siana. In addition there was a host of ambitious schemes which came 
to nothing. 

The most successful of Nijinska’s ballets was undoubtedly L£s Biches, 
and the most modern Train Bleu, the movement of the former, how- 
ever, being too markedly frenzied, as though the dancers were determined 
to plow up the earth with their feet, as indeed Nijinska herself seemed 
to do in her ragtime mazurka. But many of the variations were highly 
successful, and her original and whimsical humor joined to an intimate 
lyricism reached its highest point in this ballet. 

Diaghilev himself was much more interested in Les Fdcheux, Les 
Tentations de la Berghre, and Le Train Bleu than in Les Biches, but 
none of the former ballets really came up to what he expected of them, 
one proof being that four years later he asked Massine to re-create Les 
Fdcheux; and another, that Le Train Bleu, whose music he so much 
admired, was never even revived. Indeed, Diaghilev hardly considered 
the latter work a ballet, and had it described on the program as an 
**operette dansdeP 

That untiring admirer of the ballet^ Louis Laloy, warmly appreciated 
Les Tentations de la Berg^e, and we find him writing: “With his great 
sensitiveness to all that is most remarkable, most finish ed in every epoch, 
Diaghilev has succeeded in bringing together a number of works chosen 
from among those presented on the stage by French composers from 
the time of Louis XV unto our own day and, if the expression be per- 
mitted, unto tomorrow.” 

In a very different manner, A. L.evinson found a number of unde” 
servedly cruel and cutting things to say about this ballet. 

“Mme. Nijinska’s choreography is cast in a style which evokes very 
faindy the dances of other days — ceremonious pas de menuet for the 
courtiers, quick pas de bourrSe for the peasants. Mme. Nijinska rejected 
a documentary reconstruction of die pas of Pecourt’s day, which would, 
I agree with her, possess no real theatrical value. But I believe her ex- 
treme timidity in the choice of steps to be due rather to an incomplete 
knowledge of eighteenth-century choreography. All the petite batterie 



THE UVST EPOCH 2 .X^ 

was at her disposal^ both historically and without any oJBFense against 
correctness o£ style. Mont&lair was still living when Camargo beat her 
first entrechats cinq There is another error in respect to die char- 

acter of the King. He appears through a trap, facing the public, and 

walks down the stage without departing from that firontal aspect And 

the grands changements de pieds which raise the living statue would not 
have been so comical if the King had been allowed to make use of au 
epaulement or to place himseH at an oblique angle to the audience. This 
is both an historical error and an aesthetic one. In art, symmetry cannot 
be absolute: it would petrify the masterpiece.” ^ 

Naturally, Diaghilev found these lines somewhat painful, particularly 
as, deep down, he could not but agree, severe as was the verdict. Himself, 
a devoted and profoundly understanding admirer of that classicism, 
which, for him, held the keys to all further experiment, however daring 
and uncharted: he, who with his Lrjuis XIV fete at Versailles had so 
recently demonstrated his tmique sense of the past^ and even more, his 
ability to revivify it, could not but realize how unsatisfactory were Nijin- 
ska*s re-creations of the seventeenth century in Moliere*s Les Fdcheux, 
and of the eighteenth, in Les Tentations de la Berghre. They had proved 
infinitely dimmer than any of the visions dreamed by Etiaghilev . . . and 
this was mainly why Nijinska soon Idct the Ballet. 

Meanwhile, DiagMev had begun work on the production of Le Train 
Bleu with the greatest enthusiasm. This ballet, according to him, was 
to inaugurate a new epoch of modernist realism in dancing, a modernism, 
however, which was to prove very superficial. Nijinska borrowed largely 
(but poorly from the viewpoint of dancing) from the music hall and 
the cinema (slow-motion effects) and from sport. Modern as it was, 
dancing played no real part in it. Indeed, sports gear assumed such im- 
portance in this ballet that had Nijinska, for example, appeared on the 
stage minus her racket, no one would have guessed she was meant to 
be playing tennis. 

A^in, Le Train Bleu owed infinitely more to literature and music 
than to choreography. But though the architectural vdecor designed by 
Laurens, representing a beach dotted with bathing huts and parasols, 
was very beautiful, and though all Cocteau’s inspiration found full ex- 
pression, he and Nijinska seemed to be pulling in different directions, 
and the result was often tedious. There were frequent moments when 
the action seemed to stop completely, or the dancers would consult imag- 
inary wrist watches, or begin to move in slow motion, as in a film, or 
raise their eyes to convey the idea that an aeroplane was flying overhead. 
These incidents held back, slowed down, and even completely arrested, 
at times, the whole rhythm of the ballet. True, Nijinska made admirable 
use of the acrobatic g^ifts of Anton Dolin (through opportunism rather 
than her own invention), an excellent dancer, who walked on his hands, 

iLifar. Bcdlet, Traditional to Modern^ p. 157- 



230 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

turned somersaults, made dangerous leaps, rolled on the ground, rose 
to his knees, then to his feet, and fell heavily. It was all so adroit, full 
of such youthful enthusiasm, that the applause rang out immediately 
and spontaneously. Nevertheless the ballet itself was so crammed with 
difEerent sports and athletics, that it was quite impossible for an audience 
to take it all in. 

DiaghUet/s notebooks 

A number of Diaghilev’s more ambitious projects for 1923-24, however, 
were never to reach fruition. But we have a record of their existence, 
because of two notebooks, now in my possession. These are of the 
greatest importance, in that they reveal the whole of Diaghilev’s effer- 
vescent activity, concealed even from those with whom he collaborated 
most closely. They provide much insight into his methods, and reveal 
how nothing was too small or insignificant to be given his attention. 

Only too vividly do these notebooks reveal how resdess and troubled 
was that spirit of his, a spirit never content with what it could give, but 
ever dreaming of greater achievement. 

For his 1923-24 season, Diaghilev contemplated a festival in Monte 
Carlo, another in honor of Stravinsky, another in Austria, another in 
Italy and Spain, a series of symphony and chamber music concerts, the 
production of various operas, and a number of painting exhibitions. Swept 
away by his plans, ever more elaborate, Diaghilev nevertheless began 
to see that he could not realize them all in a single season, and so spread 
them over a number of seasons planned to finish in 1928. These plans 
would spring to mind quite spontaneously, as is shown by the fact that 
often some ambitious plan follows immediately after the laundry list, to 
be followed again by hastily scribbled notes, revealing both his impa- 
tience and his enthusiasm. A complete lack of any system was combined 
in him with the mind of an extraordinarily methodical organizer. In 
these books, we find as many as fifteen programs for the Monte Carlo 
festival continually revised and altered. 

As an example, I quote the first of these programs (the words in 
square brackets denoting what Diaghilev crossed out). This whole pro- 
gram, apart from a few corrections, is in ink, but the names of the 
painters he had thought of employing, occur in pencil in the right-hand 
column. 


I. Adam — Giselle 

Monticlair — Les Plaisirs champetres 
Poulenc — ^Les Biches 

II. I. MShul — La Dansomanie 

4. Godard — Les Contes de Perrault 
3. Mouret — Le Jardin des Amours 
2. Milhaud — 


Derain 

Gris 

M. Laurencin 

Vlaminck 

Gris 

Braque 

Leger? 



231 


THE U^ST EPOCH 

III. [^Ravel \ — [Daphnis and Chloe] — ^Lalo 
[Monsigny'\ — Le Ballet de la Royanne 
Dalayrac 

Satie — Parade — ^Derain 

Delibes — La Fete de la cloche 
rV. JLesueicr — La Cour des Miracles 

Debussy — ^I’Aprcs-Mxdi d’un Faune 
Auric — ^Les Facheux 
Bizet — Jeux d’Enfants 

(Here the note N.B. “orchestration Dukas”) 
V. Auber — La Flute Magique [Naples, 1830] 
(Note: “arrang. Ansermet”) 

\^Dalayrac'\ Monsigny — Serenade ^ 
rinfante 

Satie — [ Parade — Derain] — Ratrel 
Chabrier — V alses — Bourrce — ^Espagna 
(Note for Bourr&: “Orches. Stravinsky”) 


? 

Matisse 

Picasso 

Derain 

Goncharova 

Larionov 

[Tairoff] 

Picasso 

? 

Kjsling 

Utruxo 


Sert 

Picasso 


In the following programs, various other ballets appear, such as Lalo’s 
Namouna (intended by Diaghilev for Klarsavina), Ravel’s Ma Mbre VOye, 
Debussy’s Pan (decors by Laurens), Naudot-Satie’s Paul et Virginie, etc., 
etc. All these programs demanded an enormous amount of preparatory 
work, in connection with which Serge Pavlovitch had many pages copied 
from old music books in the Opera library, as, for instance, Auber’s 
Marco Spada and Cheval de Bronze, and Mehul’s Daphnis et Pandrose, 
Persee et Andromede and De Jugement de Paris, He too spent much 
of his time there, studying old scores by Mehul, Herold, Auber, Halevy, 
Lefevre, Rameau, Mouret, Mondonville, Destouches, etc., etc., ordered 
music catalogues, saw innumerable people, consulted authorities, etc. 

For the three performances of the Stravinsky Festival the repertory 
drawn up by Diaghilev was as follows: Les Noces Villageoises, UOiseau 
de Feu, Pulcinella, Le Chant du Rossignol, Le Sacre du Printemps, Le 
Renard and Petrouch\a. It was his intention, too, to provide L'Oiseau 
de Feu with an entirely new setting, and to use Russian singers for 
Le Renard. 

The Austrian festival was intended to comprise items by Haydn, Mo- 
zart, Schubert, Johann Strauss, Liszt, Schonberg, Bartok and — under a 
question mark — Richard Strauss and Brahms. Even more interesting was 
the plan for the Italo-Spanish festival which was to include Scarlatti’s 
Les Femmes de Bonne Humeur, Pergolesi’s Pulcinella, Rossini’s La 
Boutique Fantasque, Cimarosa’s Le Astuzie Feminili, Paisiello’s La Serva 
Padrona, Falla’s Le Tricorne, Albeniz’s Triana, Berners’ Caprice Fspag-’ 
nol, Ravel’s Rhapsodic Espagnole, and Alborada del Grazioso, Rimsky- 



23 i SERGE DIAGHILEV 

Korsakov’s Capriccio 'Espagnol, Glinka’s ]ota Argonesa, Bordes’ Danses 
Basques^ Stravinsky’s Espana, Falla’s Seville, Berners’ Carosse du St- 
Sacrament (this last "work being much in Diaghilev’s thoughts at the 
time) and v^orks by Breton and Donizetti. 

In addition, Diaghilev planned a cycle o£ six or eight symphony con- 
certs entirely, or almost entirely, devoted to the works of some thirty 
distinguished French composers, a series of chamber-music concerts, and 
a Russian festival devoted to works by Aliabiev, Varlamov, Glinka, Dar- 
gomirsky, together with operatic works by Bortniansky, Berezovsky; Tchai- 
kovsky — Eugen Onegin, Prokofiev — *Tsar JOodon, and Stravinsky — Matrra. 

Earlier, and before the decision not to include opera in the Russian 
seasons, Diaghilev had compiled a long list of comic operas, pride of 
place being allotted to Delibes. He had also drawn up the following 
strange and interesting “grand project,” for so we find it named in the 
notebooks. 

(i) Carmen — ^Bizet; (2) Ee Prince Igor — ^Borodin; (3) Ps\ovitian\a 
— Rimsky-Korsakov; (4) La Dame de Pique — ^Tchaikovsky; (5) Eugen 
Onegin — ^Tchaikovsky; (6) Le Coq d'Or — ^Rimsky-Korsakov; (7) Mavra 
— Stravinsky; (8) Les Maitres Chanteurs — ^Wagner; (9) J^toiles — Chab- 
rier; (10) Le Roi Va Dit — ^Delibes; (ii) Djamileh — ^Bizet; (12) Ultaliana 
in Algeri — ^Rossini; (13) Cambiale del Matrimonio — ^Rossini; (14) Sne- 
gourochJ{a — ^Rimsky-Korsakov; (15) Don Juan — ^Mozart; (16) Le Barbier 
de Seville — ^Rossini; (17) Paul et Virginie — Satie [Paul et Virginie occurs 
very frequendy in Diaghilev’s lists]; (18) Falstaff — Verdi; (19) Elixir 
d'Amore — Donizetti; (20) Don Pasquale — ^Donizetti; (21) Philidor; (22) 
Servante-Maitresse — Paisiello; (23) U Omelette h la Follembuche — ^De- 
libes; (24) Le Roi Dodon — ^Prokofiev; (25) La\me — ^Delibes. 

During this period, we find Diaghilev as interested in plans for exhibi- 
tions of painting as in his projects for ballets and operas. His first con- 
ception is limited to the three following exhibitions : (i) An exhibition of 
French landscape painters including Rousseau; (2) An exhibition of 
Spanish painters, and works by Cezanne; (3) An exhibition of works 
for the theater. The first of these (which soon assumed a more ambitious 
shape in his mind, and no longer limited itself exclusively to landscape 
painters) was intended to comprise a representative collection of works by 
Poussin, 'Claude Lorrain, Hubert Robert, Corot, Rousseau, Gauguin, 
Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Matisse, Marquet, Dufy, Vlaminck, Derain, 
Lhote, Laurencin, Delaunoy, Seurat, Courbet, Signac, Gleizes, Fragonard, 
Blanche, etc. The Spanish exhibition was to show works by Larionov, 
Goncharova, Survage, Picasso, Gris, Derain, Matisse, Benois, Laurencin, 
Leger, Gordon Craig, Lovat Fraser, Zak, Fedorovsky, Stellezky, Hugo 
Rumbold, Toulouse-Lautrec, Seurat, Gonzaga, Ribera, Pannini, Chirico, 
etc. 

Another plan was devoted to a portrait exhibition (Ingres, Manet, 
Monet, Renoir, Derain, Picasso, Modigliani and le douanier Rousseau), 



THE ILAST EPOCH 233 

another to a “Dress” exhibition, and there were still others for which the 
very dates had been fixed: 

January ist to 21st — ^Exhibition of French Painters. 

January 24th to February 13th — ^Exhibition of Spanish Art. 

February 16th to March ist — ^Retrospective exhibition of works by 
painters of the Independent Group. 

March 4th to March 17th — "Dress and Jewelry Exhibition. 

March 20th to April 2nd — Russian Ballet Exhibition. 

Such projects were no fleeting notions, for much work had already been 
done on them, and we actually find many references to the ownership 
and whereabouts of numbers of the paintings he had in mind to exhibit. 
Indeed, negotiations for them were already in progress with the manage- 
ment of the Monte Carlo Theater, and matters were so far advanced 
that a form of agreement had already been drafted. 

Understood though it was, that Diaghilev was to assume the place 
left empty by Gunsburg in the life of Monte Carlo, it was clear that 
he would never be content to play the part of a mere operatic impresario. 
What he wanted, what he dreamed of, was the creation of a new artistic 
center in that city, something immense and representative of all that 
was greatest and best in the arts. Given his excellent relations with the 
young Prince Peter of Monaco — ^his constant protector and most en- 
lightened patron — ^hc had every reason to believe that his many proposals 
in connection with classical ballet, Russian ballet, opera-houffe, festivals, 
concerts, exhibitions, and recitals of chamber music, to be held in the 
Monte Carlo Palais des Beaux-Arts, would be accepted. This same note- 
book from which I have quoted, also contains details of every matter 
relating to expenditure connected with the ballets, operettas, and new pro- 
ductions for the Palais des Beaux-Arts. No mention however is made of 
the Puppet Theater, this idea only occurring to Diaghilev much later. 
Nevertheless, in this same year, 1923, he outlines a program of such 
performances. 

I. The forces of love and magic in French literature of the seven- 
teenth century. 3 Acts (i hour). Dances, songs, readings. 

II. The Episode of D Music by Falla. 

III. Turkish theater — ^shadow show in original colors as in eighteenth 
century (30 minutes). 

IV. The Mysteries (6-8 scenes) with prologue. Scenes from the New 
Testament — Italian figures of the seventeenth century (20 minutes). 

None of these plans materialized, however, a fact to which may per- 
haps be attributed Diaghilev’s discontent with things in general, and the 
Ballet in particular. 

I am not suggesting that these still-born conceptions only occurred to 
Serge Pavlovitch in 1923-24. The likelihood is that Diaghilev was always 



234 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

tarmented by his immense schemes^ and indeed it would be difficult to 
imagine him otherwise than in a fever of activity. It is simply that> by 
some hazard, these two notebooks happen to be preserved, while those 
which preceded them are now lost to us. But what we do see is that 
after 1925 plans for ballet productions became increasingly rarer. Whether 
this was due to his many disappointments, his incipient disease — diabetes 
— or the fact that circumstances linked him inseparably to one and the 
same enterprise, it is clear that, in spite of his great mental activity, 
Diaghilev having passed into his fifth decade, was beginning to lose in- 
terest in that “enterprise.” At the same time an enormous amount of 
detail needed to be seen to, and these notebooks reveal how meticulously 
Diaghilev fulfilled that task. We see him noting available dates for per- 
formances, probable outlays, the names of singers, male and female 
throughout the world, likely to suit him for such and such parts, ideas 
for decors, the whereabouts of scores and piano parts, and even manag- 
ing to keep an eye on doors needing to be painted, velvet for the boxes, 
small tables in the buffet, publicity, advertising — ^not to mention the 
infinity of props needed for each performance. . . . 

The assiduous and painstaking care with which Diaghilev worked 
out the minutest details of his productions is beautifully demonstrated by 
the notes we find in the second of these notebooks, all devoted to the same 
production. The Triumph of Neptune. I cannot do better than quote it 
fully as an example. 

Scene 1. (Bridge.) At the end of the scene, spotlight on a telescope 
surrounded by a crowd of people. 

Weights fori the telescope legs, dust cover, platforms and railings 
round it. 

Two straw cylinders. 

Posy, Victorian style, for sailor’s wife. 

Boots for workmen. 

Artist painting bridge. 

Five professors uncovering telescope. In frock coats, spectacles, bald 
wigs, white buttonholes, ribbons and decorations, tophats. 

Scene 11. (Skies.) Arrange wings behind backcloth (as in “Polka”) , 

Narrow black velvet ribbons round necks — ^with medallions. 

Winglets. 

Black gloves. 

Loose swinging sides to backcloth. 

Scene 111. (Departure.) Big colored handkerchiefs. 

Scene IV. (Shipwreck.) Noises to begin immediately after departure 
and continue until Scene V. T. Hoir’s costume to be Am erican cloth . . . 
or a mannequin. 



THE LAST EPOCH ^3 5 

Scene V. (Fleet Street.) Cut score in first and lengthen “jig*” 
Add Evene — girl flower seller, dancing “jig.” 

Journalists have quill pens behind ears. 

Sailor*s wife to have Victorian posy. 

Two large shawls for both women. 

Umbrellas — black, gray and green. 

N.B. Sky on set to be gray with rain painted in. 

All artites under open umbrellas except beggar, who covers his head 
with paper. 

Paper boys with bill boards — ^‘Sailor meets Fairy.” 

Telescope covered to protect from rain. 

Scene VI, (Snow.) Long gloves — ^white silk. 

Pale Green foil flowers. 

Tu-tu*s covered with down. 

Have snow falling after adagio. 

Delete Petrova’s variation. 

Add two wings and introduce six flying fairies (two new costumes), 
sprinkling snow. 

Oval mirrors for ladies. 

Scene Vll. (Dance of goddess.) Cut music. 

Scene VUl. (Polka.) Cage hanging on wall between windows? 
CoflEee-pot and cups for journalists, served by waiter. 

Pipes for journalists. 

See to finale with policemen. 

Scene IX, (Cannibals.) Gibbet, Jomnalist; white makeup before the 
hanging. 

Green spotlight for clowns and later white — stronger — for journalist 
and sailor. 

Decor of grotto; grotto music to be cut in first part up to allegretto. 
Mew choreography for and cannibal scene. 

Blue cooking pots and hlac\ devils. King black, too. 

Hang journalist. 

Masks more terrifying, little caps inside, hair stuck down. 

Scene X, (The nigger.) Second telescope — breaj^able. 

Rearrange dance — ^more virtuosity. 

Scene XI. (Neptune.) Musical cuts at the end of the pas d^action? 
New arrangements for harlequins. 

New variation for Amor — ^Idzikowsky, 

Cuts in “Matelotte.” 

Inclusion of Idzikowsky in finale. 

Pedestals painted by nigger to look like marine stalactites. 

Danilova appears through trap door in front of backcloth in a shell; 



SERGE DIAGHELEV 


2^6 

shell to be stufEed and embroidered in difierent colored silks, frogged 
and sequined. 

Neptune’s body stuffed and costume jeweled. 

Pages to wear white and yellow plumed turbans and yellow gloves. 

Women to have diamond necklaces. 

For niggers — turbans? 

Costumes and headgear for sea-gods. 

Ladies to carry Victorian fans. 

Sequins and “frogs” for harlequins. 

Amor’s costume with tin-foil flowers and winglets. 

N.B. Dancing to start from the very beginning of scene. 

A few pages further we find Diaghilev noting other “additions to 
Neptune,” but even that does not complete the preliminary work, for 
again we find more changes later. 

A considerable amount of work also devolved upon Diaghilev for the 
budgeting of his enterprises, the notebooks being littered with figures, 
additions, subtractions and multiplications. . . . Expenses were colossal 
and somehow had to be balanced. It is true that the returns were con- 
siderable also (for instance, the six weeks* London season of 1926 brought 
in 25,000). 


Diaghilev* s articles on the Russian Ballet 

These notebooks also contain the rough drafts of two articles con- 
tributed by Diaghilev to English papers, one in 1926, the other in 1929. 
The former is in French, and entitled “Les Quinze Ans” (though orig- 
inally “Apres Quinze Ans”), and presents a concise and lyrical account 
of the Russian Ballet in London, from its debut in 1911. I have already 
quoted from this article in dealing with the Coronation Gala of 1911, 
and the Spanish epic of 1918, the last paragraph of which is a tribute 
to Lord Rothermere and the London public. 

“After this time of trial, we entered upon our third period. This same 
year we concluded our second Ballet season, thanks entirely to the 
assistance of an eminent Englishman, who might object if I said who 
he was, for his personal modesty is only equaled by the lavishness of his 
generosity. He it was who came to our assistance, and without the slight- 
est degree of self-interest, for the ballet to him meant what music and 
painting mean to others, placed us where it was necessary for us to be. 
To that powerful and animating spirit I would like to express here the 
deep, the infinitely deep and sincere gratitude I feel. People of such qual- 
ity, believe me, are rare. 

“My letter would be incomplete, if I omitted one most important mat- 
ter. It was my habit to leave the theater generally at 7, when rehearsals 
were over. Though it rained as it can only in London, with blasts that 



THE iJi-ST EPOCH ^37 

tore the hair from one’s head, I would pass huge queues of people hidden 
beneath their umbrellas with their feet squelching in water. It was the 
public waiting for the doors to open to see and judge what I had done, 
and my heart would expand with surprise, with gratitude. Yes, one must 
indeed love, and be fired by the keenest interest to overcome such un- 
pleasantness on the path to joy. Good public, if we have not always 
managed to please you, know at least that we too, on our side, have 
passed interminable hours anxiously waiting for the doors to open, to 
permit us too to glimpse some tiny corner of that new beauty, which we 
have striven to submit to your critical or admiring judgment.” 

His second article, dated 1929, is of greater interest. It begins and ends 
with the following phrase: “The longer the earth turns, the deader it 
gets.” This article was written at a moment when, being ill, he could 
only jot down some stray lines and thoughts. The first part was therefore 
dictated to P. G. Koribut-Kubitovitch, and the second part to myself. 
Its purpose was to present a new composer to the London public, the 
youthful Igor Markevitch, as well as a new chore-audior whom London 
already knew and loved as a star, namely, myself. But the significance 
and interest of this article goes far beyond the limits set it by its author. 

In particular, this article draws up the balance sheet of the third period 
of the Ballet, “mine,” and demonstrates the manner in which Serge 
Pavlovitch envisaged its future development. In this final period, Diaghi- 
lev’s one preoccupation was the search for new forms of scenic art, a 
preoccupation from which, alarming though others might find his per- 
petual experimenting, he refused to allow himself to be diverted. Diaghilev 
wrote: “Our epoch has devoted itself almost whoUy to mechanical prob- 
lems of motion, but yet, whenever a new artistic movement appears, 
humanity’s fear of being crushed by it is greater even than its fear of 
being run over by some motorcar. For twenty-five years now I have 
sought to find new movements in the theater, and society should there- 
fore accept once and for all these experiments of mine which today seem 
so dangerous to it, but which tomorrow will form part and parcel of its 
life.” 

“Constructivism” as applied to d&or, modernist “simplification” of 
music, the literary approach, contemporaneity and choreographic “acro- 
batics,” were the predominant trends in this third period of the Russian 
Ballet, during which its constructivist trend found its most complete ex- 
pression in the ballets La Chatte and Le Pas d'Acier, presented in 1927. 

Thereafter, the trend changes towards a scenic and neorcaHstic dram- 
atization, typical of which was the production of Le Fils Prodigue in 
1929. But, though Diaghilev had been one of the first to realize the 
constructivist trends of the new epoch, a trend soon to be reflected in 
his ballets, he was also one of the first to realize just how ephemeral it 
was, and how quickly destined to fade. “Constructivism in painting, 
decor, music, choreography,” he wrote, “is what will, and does, lead 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


238 

our generation away.” Very typical is this “will and does” of his, for 
though the present generation wears what was fashionable yesterday, 
that fact mattered nothing to Diaghilev, Nevertheless, though he might 
bury away this constructivism in the painting and decor, this construc- 
tivism so typical of our times, very differendy does he judge the part 
played by it in music and choreography. “Its reign, both in painting and 
decor, is now approaching its end, yet it is still remarkably vital in music, 
which only lately overwhelmed us with impressionism and neo-senti- 
mentalism, as it is in choreography, whose classicism we have so blandly 
accepted,” 

However that may be, Diaghilev completely abandoned constructivism 
in his deoDrs, as altogether out of date, and in addition pronounced cruel 
sentence on that music which, in the third period of the Russian Ballet, 
influenced it so greatly: that ‘^musiquett^' of which he talked to R. Brus- 
sel in this same spring of 1929. In his article we find him writing: “In 
Paris, we have just passed through a scandalous period of sentimental 
and debauched 'simplification^ where creation in music is concerned. It 
began with the cult of Gounod, Tchaikovsky and Donizetti, only to 
end with a pastiche of Godard and Lecoq. Melody and simplicity were 
considered obligatory and as though its inevitable principle, widi the 
result that the wretched music reached such a dead level of banality as 
was not even attained by the sentimental romances of the late 19th cen- 
tury. That is why I acclaim to such a degree whatever may help us to 
forget, even for a moment, the fatal error of the international mart of 
Paris.” These errors Diaghilev wished to forget by returning to his “old 
loyalties,” real music such as that of Ravel, and by going forward with 
Hindemith and Markevitch. About the latter we find him writing: 

“His music is dear to me, because I see in it just that rebirth of this 
new generation which might set itself against the Parisian orgies of these 
last years. True, Markevitch and those who think like him fall involun- 
tarily into the opposite extreme, all romantic melody being their enemy. 
Markevitch’s debut is characterized by an exaggeratedly dry and formal 
constructivism, for he is unable to admit of any compromise. But if we 
remember his youth, the intensity of the rhythmic movement is quite 
astonishing, although the counterpoint masks his themes. To our con- 
temporary ears, his music proceeds ^parallel with the pleasure it is meant 
to give,’ but how much more agreeable that is, than music written '/o 
give pleasure.* Besides, Markevitch will not always be merely sixteen, and 
again, our ear in time will discover the key to a new ‘order’ of artistic 
joys. [Originally Diaghilev had dictated our “ears will discover the key 
‘to its thematic structure so timidly hidden.’ ”] 

In spite of the fact that the majority of Diaghilev’s articles are dedi- 
cated to choreography, to elucidating and defending acrobatics and con- 
structivism, his evaluation of the dancing aspects of the ballet, and his 
prognoses of the choreography of the future, are much less clear and 



THE LAST epoch: 


^39 

definite. It must be admitted that, to the very end o£ his life, he remained 
a far more competent judge of painting and music than of dancing. “The 
new appreciation of my ‘Spectacles* of today,*’ wrote Diaghilev \^h€ 
Times, July 13th, 1929], “is a series of exclamations: what an ‘Etrange’ 
[sic], ‘Extravagant,’ ‘Repellent* show; and the new definitions of the 

choroDgraphy are ‘Athletics* and ‘Acrobatics* But a production must 

first and foremost be ‘Etrange.* I can well imagine the amazement of those 
who saw the first electric bulb, or heard the first telephone. Yet that first 
‘extravag^t* electric bell offered the London public was the inoffensive 
production of The Poloi/tsian Dances which I presented in Prince Igor. 
[Earlier, Diaghilev had dictated: “My grandfather hated the first trains 
to such a degree that he gave orders for his carriage to be driven along 
by the railway lines so that he might drive those monstrous railway 
trains out of his way. And when his grandson merely wished to push out 
of his path the traditional classical ballet, he began with a most inoffen- 
sive production entided The Polovtsian Dances from Prince /gor."] 
The elegant spectators could not endure such wild and brutal acrobatics 
and everyone fled. This happened in Covent Garden in 1911. And ac- 
cording to the critics, in the same theater and in 1929, my dancers became 
athletes, and my groupings pure acrobatics. 

“I have no room here to discuss this grave question in detail, but^ in 
a few words. The classical dance has never been and is not today the 
Russian Ballet. Its birthplace was France; it grew up in Italy, and has 
only been conserved in Russia. Side by side with die classical dance there 
has always existed the national or character dance, which has given the 
evolution of the Russian Ballet. In such rare countries as Spain, where 
the national dances have reached their highest point of development, 
it is obvious what an important part is played by character dancing. I 
do not know of a single classical movement which was born of the 
Russian folk dance. Why have we got to take our inspiration from the 
minuet of the French Court, and not from the Russian village festival? 
That which appears to you acrobatic is a dilettante terminology for our 
national dance step. The mistake really, in fact, goes much deeper, be- 
cause it is undoubtedly the Italian classical school which has introduced 
into the dance the acrobatic elements. The double tours en Vair, next to 
the classical pirouettes en dehors, and the hateful 32 fouettSs, that is 
when acrobatics should be attacked. In the plastic efforts of Balanchine in 
The Prodigal Son there are far less acrobatics than in any classical pas de 
deux in Auroral's Wedding!’^ 

Is it still possible to believe that in so-called classical dancing, there is 
not a constant infiltration of the elements of character dancing and 
acrobatics? Diaghilev is certainly correct in his aflBrmation, but his opinion 
that in Balanchine’s ballets there is less acrobatics than in Aurora^ s Wed- 
ding must certainly be considered paradoxical, especially as the acrobatism 

2 Lifar, Bidlet, Tradiiional to Modem, p. 159. 



240 SERGE DIA.GHELEV 

o£ the classical ballet is of quite a difEerent order. Nor is his defense of 
the “athleticism,” “acrobatics” and “extravagance” of this period made 
more convincing by his appeal to character and classical dancing, for 
though acrobatics may have been employed, that does not in any way 
justify its general utilization, in principle, in the ballet. In any case, 
Diagliilev understood all this perfectly, and for that reason dictated the 
following phrase, the first portion of which was scored out: ** Acrobatics 
care intolerable when they become theory*’' Yet those very acrobatics con- 
tained many of the elements of that constructivism which was “at the 
bottom of everything contemporary.” Defending the honor of construc- 
tivism in his ballets, Diaghilev wipes from his mind the fact that 
acrobatism, in principle, is intolerable. This same dubiety concerning 
acrobatics is characteristic of the last years of the Russian Ballet. 

While denying the acrobatics of Balanchine, Diaghilev considered 
that only after my Renard did it become possible at last to talk of the 
“ballet acrobatic.” But the next lines seem to suggest that this “acro- 
batism” is not characteristic of all my choreographic creativity, but only 
of my Renard. “On the cover of the score for Renard Stravinsky noted 
*JLe Renard to be represented by buffoons, acrobats, or dancers.* Lifar 
produced it with dancers and acrobats, real circus acrobats. In this union 
of the plastic art of the circus and choreographic invention lay the very 
crux of the choreographic problem. When, in Le Renard, Stravinsky 
causes the bass to sing with a womanly voice, and when the sentimen- 
tality of the Fox expresses itself by the clanging restaurant cymbals, we 
must realize that in this work no other visual expression is needed than 
that invented by Lifar.” In the following sentence, however, we see 
Diaghilev stating quite clearly that this acrobatism of mine is only a 
particular instance ’’and not at all a principle with Ufar, for it was 
merely that he saw no other way of expressing Stravinsky’s music 
choreographically. Stravinsky himself is often clearly the acrobat of sound, 
just as Picasso is the acrobat of line.” But if acrobatism is not at all a 
principle with Lifar, true though it is, is one justified in that case in 
stating that from the moment I became ballet master to the Russian 
Ballet, that is, in the last year of its existence, “one could at last begin 
.to talk of the ‘ballet acrobatic* *’? If this be true, then all that remains 
of Diaghilev*s statement about myself is that “constructivism** and “an 
absolute horror of all compromise’* were marked features of my work. 
But Serge Pavlovitch had once had immeasurable faith in me as a 
choreographer, as a result of which we find him saying in his article: 
“When he [Lifar] appeared for the first rehearsal, it was as though 
the only thing he had ever done was producing ballets. He knew exactly 
what he wanted; it can be felt in his little acrobatic ballet. . . .** Without 
a moment’s hesitation, Diaghilev confided the future of the Russian 
Ballet to my care, but the choreographic principles of the new era in the 
Ballet, which Diaghilev foresaw, were never entirely clear to him. 



THE U^T EPOCH 


2.41 


Last years of the Russian Ballet 

But to return to 1^4. Nijinska had parted company with the Ballet, 
and once more the company was left without a ballet master. It is ex- 
ceedingly probable that at that moment the company might have ceased 
to exist, but for two new discoveries of Diaghilev’s: namely, that of his 
“third son” in the realm of music, Dukelsky, and that of a dancer — ^my- 
self. In after days, Diaghilev once told me that what played an important 
part in deciding him to continue was largely curiosity to see whether I 
would fulEU all the promise he imagined he had detected in me. This 
year Dukelsky composed the music for the ballet Flore et ZSphyre, with 
which Diaghilev was frankly delighted. I have a letter dated August 13th, 
in which he writes to me: “Dukelsky came yesterday and played me the 
music for Flore et ZSphyre which I like enormously. I made such com- 
ments as I thought fit, and he very nicely said he would take note of it 
all, and go on working at it in Monte Carlo, under my eye: all of which 
pleases me greatly. For his twenty years he*s extremely gifted and de- 
veloped.” But Dukelsky ’s reign was soon ended, and Flore et Ziphyre 
proved not only his first but his last ballet. 

For the time being, however, the ballet-master difficulty was setded by 
Diaghilev’s inviting Massine first to put on Flore et ZSpkyre and then 
Auric’s Les Matelots, but there was no pretense that the invitation was 
anything but temporary, or that it would contribute in any way to resolve 
perhaps the most difficult and unpleasant problem which always con- 
fronted the Ballet: namely, its almost perpetual difficulties with its 
choreographers. About this particular crisis of 192,5^ A. Levinson has some 
particularly pointed things to say: 

“Today, after six performances and two first nights, it is more diffi- 
cult than ever to make out the views and define the policy of the com- 
pany. The theory and practice of the ‘Ballets Russes’ have changed twice 
in three years. The schemes and constructions of Mme. Nijinska, which 
caused such a stir at the time of ILes Noces, have been brushed away with 
an iron hand. The return to the choreographic methods of Massine has 
the air of being a temporary truce only. Despite the success of G. Auric’s 
Les Matelou, Diaghilev’s collaboration with Stravinsky’s French followers 
is doomed to a speedy end. It may very well be that everything which 
at this moment represents the artistic ballast, whether it be inspired by 
Mihaud or Poulenc, will in its turn be thrown overboard. As though in 
an pn rhante d maz^ the company of the ‘Ballets Russes’ finds itself where 
it began, at the crossroads where it has struggled so many years in search 
of a way out. 

‘Tokine’s departure, in 1912, was the origin of a crisis which Diaghilev 
so far has been unable to resolve. Massine, who was to be used as an 
antidote to Mhnc. Nijuiska’s methods, has himself become subject to their 



2.42^ SERGE DIAGHILEV 

influence. His production of Flore et Zephyre was no longer thought to be 
good after it had been performed in Paris. He himself is going to return 
to his English music-hall activities. What is to be done? The question is 
just as acute as ever. What is to be done to fit choreographic movement 
to music? What is to be done to harmonize the dancer’s plastique, a 
formal element, with the problems of expression and of symbolic gesture? 
Should the traditions of the classic dance be frankly employed, or should 
they be relegated to second place, and only used surreptitiously? These 
various problems receive a different solution each season. Only the orgy 
of color, the archaeological ornament and impassioned pathos of M. 
Fokine seem to be banished forever. . . .” ® 

In regard to this article, two remarks need to be made. In the first 
place, Levinson is perfecdy justified in claiming that Massine succumbed 
to Nijinska’s influence. Nevertheless, he does not explain how Massine, 
who had never worked with Nijinska, could have come under her influ- 
ence, nor does he mention the fact that Nijinska herself had already 
been influenced by Massine, and Massine himself in his first period, by 
Fokine, Nijinsky, etc., etc. Yet, this was something that might have been 
underlined, for, once the constant and reciprocal effects of these influ- 
ences had been explained, the phrase, ‘*the theory and practice of the 
‘Ballets Russes’ have changed twice in three years,” might well have 
been softened. This reciprocal influence upon each other of the Ballet’s 
chore-authors is explained, not only by the fact that old ballets con- 
tinued to remain in the repertoire, but principally by the permanent in- 
fluence wielded over everything connected with the Ballet by its chief 
guiding spirit, Diaghilev. Thus, it was not so much Nijinska influencing 
Massine, or Massine influencing Nijinska, as Diaghilev influencing them 
both; and so a certain continuity was assured, in spite of evolutionary 
processes, and the diverse trends and doctrines which marked the progress 
of the Ballet. Indeed, so powerful and determinant was Diaghilev’s in- 
fluence, that J. Sazonova is perfectly justified in asserting that the chore- 
ography of the various ballet masters to the Ballet was, in fact, the 
choreography of Diaghilev. Thus, in La Revue Musicale, we find her 
writing: “Diaghilev left no school, his enterprise died with him, and those 
who worked wdth him are now dispersed, each working in isolation. 
But the seal of Diaghilev remains engraved upon them, and though each 
is absorbed in his own creations they still continue to propagate the new 
choreographic conception, a concept which, whatever one may say, can, 
in the widest sense of the word, be called ‘The School of Diaghilev.’ ” 
Again, the period in which Levinson wrote his article (July, 19Z5) 
happened to coincide with the very apogee of the Paris season at the 
Gaiete Lyrique, a moment when there were actually no complications in 
regard to ballet masters, for a new choreographer, Georges Balanchine, 
was already working on the new ballets. 

® Li&r, BdUet, Traditional to Modern^ pp. 179-80. 



THE LAST EPOCH 243 

Xhe two novelties o£ the season, I*lore et Zephyref by Dukelsky-Braque- 
Massine, and Les Matelots, by Auric-Pruna-Massine, both enjoyed the 
greatest success in Paris (as also in London at the Coliseum), but were 
received more critically by the Press, that o£ Paris unanimously praising 
the dancers, while objecting that the ballets themselves could not be com- 
pared with its original productions, the very glory o£ the Russian Ballet, 
As £or the musical qualities o£ the new ballets, there was obvious 
diversity of opinion, though all agreed it was unsuitable for dancing. It 
was added further that as a result the ballet master had been compelled to 
resort to “stunts” and technical feats of considerable difiSculty, which still 
further urged the ballet along the path of clowning, circus tricks, the 
music hall and the physical culture. In these music-hall trends the critics 
saw the signs of a new epoch, and it was said of Diaghilev that he was 
“hurrying in advance of the times.” 

Balanchine as choreographer 

The premiere of the next new ballet, by Balanchine, Barabau, took 
place in London, and proved immensely successful. Balanchine, who had 
completed his studies at the Imperial Theater Schools of St. Petersburg, 
was a disciple of the Moscow fanatic Gailizovsky, a ballet master who 
cultivated acrobatism on an academic foundation. Acrobatics and humor 
were Balanchine’s two great resources, though he was now to pass 
through a new school, that of Fokine, Massine and "Nijinska, for not 
only did the old ballets continue to remain in the repertoire, but Massine 
and Nijinska continued to be employed at intervals, since Diaghilev 
hardly dared to deliver the fate of the Ballet completely into Balanchine’s 
hands. Thus in 1926 we find Nijinska creating Romeo et Juliette, which, 
plastically speaking, was one of the best, and a choreographic poem Une 
Nutt sur le 'tdonUChauve by Mussorgsky; while in 1927-28 it was the 
pre-revolutionary Massine and not the Soviet Balanchine who produced 
Prokofiev’s IjC Pas d* Acier and Nabokov’s Ode^ 

Balanchine, while creating his own ballets, continued to learn much 
from the productions of his predecessors, and to assimilate their spirit, 
thanks to which he was able happily to combine his “sovietism” with 
the main trends of Diaghilev’s Ballet. Indeed, remarkable progress is 
revealed, if we trace his development from the first comic ballets, through 
the delightful and frankly amusing Barabau (1925), ha Pastorede, The 
Triumph of Neptune, with its roots in English folk song, Jac^ in the 
Box and its naive “darky” themes (1926), to his most perfect, most 
personal creation ha Chatte (1927), the genuinely inspired and important 
Apollon and hes Dieux Mendiants (1928) and the tragic miming of he 
Fils Prodigue and he Bad (1929), the latter an utterly insignificant ballet 
^ Again in 1927, Diaghilev included in his repertoire Mercure created by Massine in X924. 



244 SERGE DIAGHBLEV 

which, anyone might have created. And in addition to these, there was 
the new version of JLe Chant du Rossignol presented by him in 1927. 

Balanchine’s inventiveness was particularly rich in the devising of 
tricks and parodies. If Mme. Nijinska and Massine brought the ballet 
back to earth and deprived it of all “elevation,” Balanchine’s creations, 
.^inspired by the circus, and the most realistic trends, had, so to speak, no 
connection with academic ballet. “Nevertheless, Balanchine enriched the 
‘Ballets Russes’ and the academic dance with new methods, but above 
all, alas, with possibilities no more than hinted at and unfulfilled, a fact 
which left Diaghilev ’with a profound sense of dissatisfaction.” ® It must 
be admitted, however, that the problem confronting him was infinitely 
more difficult than that faced by his predecessors, for Fokine, Massine 
and Nijinska had always co-operated closely with Diaghilev and those 
about him — ^painters, musicians and poets — a collaboration which often 
enabled them to produce works amazing in their unity. Balanchine, how- 
ever, was working practically in isolation, with Diaghilev helping him 
less and less, and was thus forced into trying to guess the desires of his 
employer. No longer was there the least effective collaboration with 
painters and musicians, and their names follow each other in endless 
succession: Utrillo, Pruna, Derain, Mirb, Ernst, Jakovlev, Gabo, Pevsner, 
Tchelitchev, Charbonnier, Bauchant, Gris, Rouault, Chirico, Auric, Rieti, 
Satie, Poulenc, Milhaud, Lambert, Berners, Sauguet, Nabokov . . . they 
received their orders and carried them out, without taking any real part 
*ln the life of the Ballet, while Soviet producers like Meyerhold and Tairov 
began to assume an ever greater importance in Diaghilev’s eyes and to 
exert an ever strengthening influence, clearly discernible in Balanchine’s 
, work. Meanwhile the old fire in Diaghilev was beginning to burn low, and 
he who had once been all things to the Ballet had now, as it were, become 
its conscientious manager, who, though supervising each new production 
with efficient interest yet remained indifferent to them all. From this 
period date the RomSo et Juliette (1926), of Lambert-Mir6-Ernst-Nijinska; 
The Triumph of Neptune (1926), of Lord Berners-Prince Shervashidze- 
Balanchine; Le Pas d'Acier (1927), Prokofiev-Jakovlev-Massine; La Chatte 
(1927), of Sauguet-Gabo-Pevsner-Balanchine; Apollon Musagete (192S), 
of Stravinsky-Bauchant-Balanchine; Le Pits Prodigue (1928), of Prokofiev- 
Rouault-Balanchine, and finally a new version, created by myself, Le 
Renard (1929), with Stravinsky and Larionov. Serge Pavlovitch took 
, great interest in this, my first production, and often came to rehearsals, 
but he gave no advice and took no creative part in the realization of 
my ballet, 

I>iaghilev*s bibliophilia 

Elad the creative fire died out in Diaghilev, had he lost all interest in 
sponsoring the newest developments in art? I do not think so. Diaghilev 

Lifar, Ballet, Traditional to Modem, p. 182 . 




Constant Lambert Gerald Tyrwhitt, Lord Berners 





THE 2 LAST EPOCH 245 

remained Diaghilev, and the weakening o£ his interest in the Ballet merely 
confirms the unchanging nature of his dharacter, for what constituted its 
very basis was an utter inability to content himselE with past achievement, 
and problems already solved. 

Then in 1927^ a new passion, capable of absorbing every energy, took 
possession of him — his bibliomania. For a time, the old and the new were 
at grips and it seemed that the old, the Ballet, must be defeated and go 
to the wall. That struggle continued until 1929, his love of the Ballet 
and his passion for book hunting alternately predominant. Yet, the more 
furiously this passion flared up in him, and the more colossal grew the 
plans he conceived in the true Diaghileu spirit, the clearer it became that 
rebirth and not death awaited the Russian Ballet. 

Diaghilev*s original idea had been merdy to build for himself a private 
collection of important books and musical manuscripts. By degrees, how- 
ever, his plans grew vaster, imtil we find him contemplating an immense 
Russian Library in Europe, somewhat similar to the Pushkin Museum 
in Russia, which would centralize everything relating to Russian culture 
abroad. This bibliomania ate greatly into his time, for not content with 
buying books, he also went in for “mounting books” himself, confecting 
rarities by completing missing, or imperfect, signatures or pages, from 
other imperfect copies of the same book. But what more than anything 
took up his time, was the compilation of his catalogue, when, lying on 
his bed in his boots, he would spend hours and days, concentrating, not, 
as once, on where he might seek new dancing talent, or what new con- 
tracts might be signed for the Ballet, but on his catalogues and bibliogra- 
phies, in the hope of discovering something that would throw new light 
on his rare, his precious, and even occasionally, unique finds. 

Among other valuable items, he could number three from the presses 
of Ivan Feodorov, the Gutenberg of Russia, The Acts of the Apostles, 
A Book of Hours, and the first Russian Grammar, which latter, before 
Hiaghilev’s discovery, was unknown; rare editions published in Prague 
and Venice during the sixteenth century, and some superb seventeenth- 
century volumes. The epoch of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great 
were also represented with rare completeness, and there were besides some 
magnificent editions of the nineteenlh century. A special section was 
devoted to manuscripts and numbered works by Pushkin, Jukovsky, 
Gogol, Turgeniev, Glinka, Wagner, etc. 

All this necessitated considerable expenditure, and where was the 
money to be found if not in the Russian Ballet? Willy-nilly, Diaghilev 
was forced to continue working with the Ballet, but incapable of doing 
so passively and inertly, he began to dream of new worlds to conquer, 
of immense reforms to be made. These reforms were to operate in two 
directions : on the one hand, new researches into ballet worked out in the 
rehearsal room by the ballet master found by himself; and on the other, 
the reorganization of the actual composition of the Ballet, which in 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


2^6 

Diaghilev’s opimon, now seemed inadequate. Both these changes mvolved 
the foundation of a real school of classical dancing, and that school 
Diaghilev contemplated establishing in Monte Carlo. 

Death of Diaghilev 

Thus, once more we find Diaghilev conceiving his vast projects, but 
alas, he was now at grips with his illness, borne down by it, all that was 
left being an immense apathy, indifference and weariness. To the last day 
of his life, August 19th, 1929, that creative spirit of his went on struggling, 
refusing to submit. But death conquered at last, and left us with the host 
of unsolved problems with which we have been wresthng all these years, 
and which we are still seekmg to resolve. 

Let us be thankful to the fates, that they at least have permitted us to 
know Diaghilev, to work with him, and be infected by the burmng flame 
of that spirit to which we owe so much beauty, such unsuspected artistic 
joys. 

Diaghilev’s aeative achievement, the edifice he created, must always 
remain. They have become part and parcel of the very lifeblood of con- 
temporary art, which to all eternity will transmit them through the arts 
to come. 

The miracle of Diaghilev remains eternal. 



BOOK II: WITH DIAGHILEV 



TO 


MADAME MISIA SERT 



CHAPTER I 


IN THE CORPS BE BALLET 

IT WAS early and cx>ld that morning of January 13th, 1923, as we, 
Unger, the brothers Khoer, ILapitzky and I, refugees from Kiev, ap- 
proached Paris. Slowly the train crawled under the sooty arches of the 
Gare du Nord. Someone from Diaghilev would be there to meet us on the 
platform. But barely had we had time to alight, before we were sur- 
rounded by such tender, such touching attentions, that the tears started 
to our eyes. Everything was so stirringly joyful and new after Soviet 
Russia, with all its wolfishness; after foppish, inhospitable Warsaw, 
where we sufiered from hunger and deadly cold. 

From the railway station, we were driven to the Hotel St. Georges 
and left to ourselves until five o’clock that afternoon, at which hour we 
were expected to present ourselves punctually in the hall of the H6tel 
Continental, there to meet Serge Pavlovitch Diaghilev. Paris, five o’clock 
in the afternoon, January 13th, 1923: an unforgettable momentl 

It was exaedy 5 pjwI. The Continental! Never before had I seen such 
regal splendor as that of this hall, crammed with tropical plants. 

V. F. Nouvel met us and, solicitous, ingratiating, asked uS to sit 
down: ‘‘Kindly wait a moment, gendemen; Serge Pavlovitch will be 
here very soon.” 

I was unable to sit still, I was in a fever, my hands and feet trembling, 
and shaking all over: 

“Is it possible that Diaghilev will really be here in a moment? That 
I shall see him, talk to him?” 

And then suddenly, a small group began to walk straight over to us, 
led by a tall bulky man, carrying a walking stick, and who looked a 
veritable colossus in his fur coat, I saw a large head, a pink, sUghdy pufEy 
face, big shining eyes full of sadness, yet endlessly mellow and kind, a 
Peter-the-Great mustache, a gray lock in the black hair. ...Then he 
sat down at our side and began talking, and immediately we were envdi- 
oped, subjugated, irresistibly charmed by his luminous soft warmth. 

It seemed to radiate from the very man, from the slight lisp, the lazy 
gendemanly voice, the expression in his dark, young eyes. 

Then, an imposing maitre d'hdtel bowed obsequiously, and Diaghilev 
in a resounding baritone voice ordered tea. After which, vyith an engag- 
ing snulc, he thus addressed us: 

“Gendemen, you have just arrived from over there — from Russia. Your 
impressions arc still so fresh, and I feel so homesick for our dear coimtry. 

249 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 

. . . Tell me everything, everything. . . . Unburden yourselves of all that 
you, in your youth, have suJBEered — ^has it been very dreadful?” 

Sadly his voice faded into silence. One could guess how infinitely he 
loved our country, and all the sharp burning pain he felt. Everything we 
tell him seems to interest him intensely: it is as though he has completely 
forgotten the business side of our meeting, has forgotten everything save 
what we have left far, far behind us, beyond the thousand-mile barbed- 
wire barrier of the Soviet frontier. But suddenly he becomes a different 
man. His sad eyes sparkle, his voice grows firmer, drier. . . . Before us 
sits our future manager. 

"Gentlemen, I am very glad you have arrived at last, for I really need 
you I hope our work together will surpass all expectations; never- 

theless, I expect great things from you all. ... You must see Europe — 
and I am sure I shaU. be proud of you. . . . Bronia [Nijinska] , for 
instance, has told me a great deal about you all. . . . Now, what can you 
do?” Then, turning to the eldest of us all, Khoer, a young man of about 
five and twenty. Serge Pavlovitch asked: 

"You, for example — are you quite ready? Can you do tu/o tours?** 

"Oh yes, yes. . . . Certainly!” the answer came with assurance. Just as 
assured were the three next answers he got. And now the kind velvety 
eyes rest on me. I feel my very soul slipping away. . . . 

"And you, young man, what can you do? To me you are a question 
mark. I have heard nothing about you from Mme. Nijinska. ...” I feel 
so small, so weak and helpless, so alone. My lips open and shut, a tearful 
spasm catches me by my throat, and tears begin to well into my eyes. . . . 

"Oh, LiEar has worked a lot! He can do everything!” So say my friends, 
and Heaven be praised, lam saved. . . . 

Now Diaghilev comes dovm to business: 

"Gentlemen, we shall sign the contract today, tomorrow you all start 
for Monte Carlo, and I shall join you there in a few days. ... I am sorry 
to say that, of late, things have not been as one would have liked them 
to be. . . . For that reason I can offer you not 1,500 francs a month as I 
had intended, but 1,300. However, there is no need to repay the advance 
I sent you in Warsaw — ^that will be my present to you. . . .” 

Whereupon my colleagues risk a protest: 

“But how is that. Serge Pavlovitch? We agreed to come for 1,500 francs 
a month. Mme. Nijinska mentioned that figure in her letter?” 

But Diaghilev, always with the same charming smile, accompanied by 
a flowing motion of the hand, says: 

"Gentlemen, you must have confidence in me. . . . You won’t come 
to any harm,” and rising adds: “very well then, we shall meet again in 
Monte Carlo, and there sign the contracts. . . .Pleasant journey!” 

And so he leaves, accompanied by his suite, while I — ^for a long time 
I seem to be still dreaming 

Then came festive, gleaming, snow-white Monte Carlo. Life in that 



m THE CORPS DE BAIXET 25 1 

gay city, however, began by no means festively for us. From the begin- 
ning, Diaghilev’s ballet was hostile to us: we were interlopers imposed 
on them from the distant “beyond** — a. thing emigres always dislike. In 
this hostile atmosphere, while awaiting Diaghilev*s arrival, we began to 
work under Nijinska’s direction. Our exercises were conducted behind 
closed doors, for we had asked Nijinska to arrange that no one should 
watch us during rehearsals. 

When, the day following our arrival, we all met at her house, she said 
to me: 

“And you, Lifar, can you dance?” 

That question almost robbed me of breath. If even Mme. Nijinska did 
not know I could dance, and had her doubts — what could I possibly ex- 
pect from the rest, from all those other hostile, searching eyes? 

After the first lesson, my despair was even greater, for I myself realized 
that I was not ready at all, and that six months of wandering and more, 
had robbed me of all control over my body. 

“Where have I come? Why did I come at all?** 

Terror gripped me in gleaming Monte Carlo. Feeling even lonelier, 
and more unwanted than before, I mingled with the cheerful, rejoicing 
crowds that were filling the streets to watch the fireworks.^ As I sauntered 
along the walks of the fairylike tropical gardens, I wondered, in deep 
dejection, how to escape from this glittering loveliness in order to return 
to grim and distant Russia! 

But by degrees, with every further lesson, this dark mood began to 
fade, and when, three weeks later, on February 6th, S. P. Diaghilev 
eventually arrived, I no longer felt completely useless. 

Immediately on arrival, that very same day in fact, Diaghilev ap- 
pointed a time for a general examination. 

Now Diaghilev appears with his entourage, followed by the whole 
company, who have been given permission to see us put through our 
paces. 

The examination begins. . . . 

The exercises at the barre go ofiE more than smoothly, and Diaghilev 
is obviously pleased. Leaning back in his seat. Serge Pavlovitch nods his 
head in approval. 

But the allegro out in the center of the studio, turns out to be not nearly 
so good. I, however, avoid taking part and remain only a spectator. I 
see Diaghilev frown and turn pal^ while malevolent sneers begin to 

appear on the faces of some of the cast Suddenly Serge Pavlovitch 

jumps to his feet, and his seat slaps up with a terrific bang. , . . Then, 
silence — a quiet that presages the storm. . . . All faces, ours, the com- 
pany’s, look haggard and drawn. Then, like a hurricane, Diaghilev 
rushes off to his study, followed hastily by Nijinska, pale and dismayed. 

^January 17th is the national Moncgasquc holiday. 



SERGE DIAGHELEV 

Presently his baritone voice is heard thundering forth^ but now it is 
neither charming nor Idndj but threatening, terrifying; 

“Bronia, you have deceived me! Why, they are absolutely no good at 
all... are you not ashamed of having praised them so highly to me? 
I cannot, I will not and I am not going to work with them . . . 1*11 send 
them back to Russia ... I Grigoriev! Producer! You are to send to Lon- 
don for Woizikowsky and Idzikowsky! Immediately!” 

Mme. Nijinska’s answers are inaudible, but what can she say? It means 
the shattering of all our hopes. . . . 

Fortunately, Diaghilev, whose fits of temper disappeared as quickly 
as they arose, decided to repeat the trials some few days later in response 
to Mme. Nijinska’s persistent entreaties: 

“Serge Pavlovitch, they’ve had no time to get properly rested or get 
used to the place. ... I agree that technique is not my pupils’ strong 

point, but their sauts I assure you, aren’t bad at all. You see for 

yourself. . . . We’ll put out a few small tables. You see. . . .” 

And indeed, although my colleague’s sauts over tables were more of 
the athletic than the ballet kind, and somewhat clumsy, one had to 
admit that as a beginning, as a base, they could not be called entirely 
hopeless. 

Diaghilev watched them without approval, but without, at least, the 
gloomy frown I had last seen on his face. 

Then came my turn. 

It seems that my sauts were better than those of my colleagues, lighter, 
more plastic, without ejfFort, for Diaghilev’s face lit up, and a pleased 
expression began to sparkle in his eyes 

Then, thinking a moment, he said: 

“I ought to be sending you all back to Kliev, but I’m sorry for this 
boy, the more so as something can be made of him. ll sera danseur!* ^ 

Amd so I stayed on in Monte Carlo, a tiny miserable chick of a boy. 

Thus ended my childhood, such an unchildish one, and adolescence 
began, and a new epoch in my Kfe, in which I found my true place 
under Diaghilev’s tutelage. When I compare the seven years of my 
life spent with the Diaghilev Ballet (1923-29) with the preceding seven 
(1916-22), it becomes clear that all the adventurousness was beginning 
to go out of my life, and that I was becoming, for a time at least, more 
obedient, more humble, more the youthful novice and less independent, 
less daring: I was being born to a new life, but this new birth was difEer- 
ent from the first. Then I had been left to shift for myself, to make 
my own way in life. But now, I myself, and my education, in preparation 
for an artist’s life, were being guided; but such was that guidance, that 
most of the time there was nothing for me to do but follow my impulse, 

2 These pages are taken from the last chapter of The Years of Suffering, or rather in 
that book, I make use of the first portion of my reminiscences of S. P. Diaghilev. 



nsr THE CORPS DE BALLET ^53 

and hold on to the hand that led me on to the goal I had set myself at the 
end of my first, my childish life. Yet, the end o£ my adolescence cul- 
minated in an inner revolt, though at the time I hardly realized it, against 
the man who was thus helping me find myself, against him who, super- 
ficially, appeared to be trying to suppress my independence. Youth is 
always ungrateful, and fearful of losing its independence, is ready to 
revolt against any spiritual father, however loving and careful that guid- 
ance may be. 

Both my lives (and I mean lives and not periods in my life, for they 
are organically distinct) before and after 1922, were stamped by the 
domination over my soul of two, and only two people. Before 1923 there 
reigned over it and held sway, she, the woman from Kiev, who had cast 
a spell over my childhood. But after 1923 it was he. Serge Pavlovitch 
Ehaghilev, the great Diaghilev, with whom my spiritual adolescence is 
inseparably united. It was not, however, the woman who molded me, it 
was I, or rather it was my vision, that created her. Diaghilev was no 
dream or vision of mine, he was reality unattainable, pure — to which 
everything in me yearned. Thus Diaghilev did indeed become part of 
ray life, and though he did not create me in his image and likeness, he 
nevertheless helped me to find, to re-creat^ myself. Of others, save for 
this she and he, there have been none in my life (I speak here of the 
now distant past), and when as sometimes happened, my contact with 
them was broken, I was lonely and abandoned; and that I only too 
often was. 

Diaghilev, however, did not immediately enter my life: not at once 
were our lives linked together, and before the connection became close, I 
very seldom even saw my divinity. 

To the whole company he was a distant^ unapproachable deity, some- 
times gracious, sometimes and more often formidable, before whom one 
trembled, and whom one feared. He would come to rehearsal surrounded 
by his suite, would sit down and watch, express dissatisfaction — how 
difficult it was to earn his praise — ^and then leave. No artistic contact 
existed between him and the company, and all his orders were communi- 
cated through his secretary, B. E. Kokhno or S. L. Grigoriev or, and this 
but seldom, through the senior member of the company, N. V. Kremnev. 

To me, as well as to the rest of the company, Diaghilev and his inner 
circle were immeasurably remote and unattainable, so that I dared not 
even think of approaching them, but could only gaze on them from a 
distance, and remain fixed in timid veneration: such timidity indeed, that 
Serge Pavlovitch could certainly have had no idea of the reverent trem- 
ors he inspired in me. If I did happen to meet him, every limb began 
to tremble in my fear lest he might look at me. But I could not merge my- 
self in the Ballet in the same way as the rest of the group from Kiev, 
the brothers Khoer, Lapitzky and Unger. 

Yet if Diaghilev and his suite were too ffir above, and inaccessible to 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


^54 

me, the company itself attracted me but little, owing to its, as it seemed 
to me then, lack of culture. Technically, professionally — ^in everything, in 
fact, which related to our craft — ^the company stood exceptionally high 
and beyond ail doubt it was, at the time, the best of its kind in the world: 
but outside the sphere of its art, it was not at all what I had imagined 
when still in Kiev. Survivals of serfdom still seemed to cling to its frame, 
and the artists, for instance, would send out the boys in the corps de 
ballet for cigarettes or beer, just as though they were still tied appren- 
tices! This whole immense community seemed to be stewing in its juice, 
and apart from performances and rehearsals, spent its time in gossip and 
trifling primitive flirtations. Fortunately, owing perhaps to the inaccessi- 
bility of the artistic management, intrigues and underhand schemings 
had no place in its make-up. It was a great event when a ballerina man- 
aged to secure a husband for herself and left the company. But even 
more sensational was the entry of some new ballerina or dancer, for then 
one had to discover everything about the newcomer, he or she was dis- 
cussed from every angle and thoroughly cross-examined while one strove, 
not very delicately it must be admitted, to pry open his or her innermost 
being. I had quite a different idea of the priests and priestesses of my be- 
loved art. Only much later did I realize that our frequent tours through 
all sorts of countries, and the distant, though nevertheless effective influ- 
ence of our artistic management, lent our company a distinction which 
raised it above all others. Nor was it, after all, as devoid of culture as I 
had imagined, while still obsessed by my Kiev dreams of a quite unique 
“Diaghilev’* ballet. 

This new world, which was henceforth to be mine, proved to be not at 
aU what I had dreamed it, and I felt lonely and apart. Nowhere was 
there any support. Serge Pavlovitch appeared to take no notice of me 
while Bronislava Nijinska now turned her back on us, and ceased to 
count us as “her own.” Grigoriev, the producer, had no particular liking 
for me, the company was prejudiced against and suspicious of the inter- 
lopers, inadequately trained as they were and newly arrived from Soviet 
Russia, and I, having in spirit already rejected my new family, could less 
than any contribute to dispel this instinctive distrust. Constant under- 
feeding, coupled with two painfully difficult attempts to escape from Kiev 
to the charmed, promised land of “Diaghilev,” had undermined my 
health, and weakened me considerably. I suffered from headaches, my 
head often swam, and black circles kept zigzagging in front of my eyes. 
My heart either beat so feebly as to bring me to the verge of fainting, 
or began to thud with dreadful, loud, uneven strokes. It was difficult 
indeed to adapt oneself to this new Hfe, so different from the Soviet life: 
difficult to be in a foreign land, ignorant of the language. All was new, 
unaccustomed, alien. . . . 

In this condition of bitter solitude, and utter neglect, my dreams of 
my Marina in Kiev began to flare up afresh. They burned within me. 



rwr THE CORPS DE BAULET 255 

forcing me back to Kiev, so different was the life abroad and in 
“Diaghilev’s ballet” from what I had imagined it when confined in the 
frontier O.Gj?.U. station amid people dying of typhus. 

From this heart-rending anguish of youthful loneliness, from this temp- 
tation to return to Russia, but also too, prompted by an irresistible urge 
to dance, I sought refuge in work, living in it and it alone. I was deter- 
mined to justify my arrival in Diaghilev’s eyes and earn his approval. 
Besides, the first production we began to rehearse was Stravinsky’s L>es 
Noces, The work proved fearfully hard. Fortunately rhythm was my 
strong point, and this made it possible for me, imperceptibly, to find 
my place in the ensemble. Grigoriev approved of my work, and my first 
joy in Monte Carlo was the knowledge that at last I had “passed” and 
would be called to participate in the performance. 

But what was most terrifying at rehearsals was I>iaghilev’s presence. 
It is impossible to convey any idea of how exacting he was. Ballerinas and 
dancers would sometimes be made to repeat a single gesture a score of 
times. I would tremble with terror lest he should see me, notice my work, 
grow angry, and make me repeat it all over again. So panicky with fear 
did I become that I worked, not only at rehearsals, but alone and at night 
on the jetty. In that fantastic setting I would practice for hours, not 
noticing how time slipped by, while the two colored harbor beacons 
gleamed strangely over the sea, and silhouetted the dark outlines of the 
sleeping rock-citadel. These exercises strengthened my dancer’s take-o£E, 
and fixed the work done at rehearsal, with the result that next day I 
would be quite sure of my part, whereas many of my colleagues had 
already forgotten what it was they had been so assiduously practicing the 
previous day. Thus, for them, it had all to be repeated, and new efEorts 
made to achieve what had already been acquired. 

In the same way, on Monte Carlo jetty, I worked at Aurora* s Wed- 
ding and all the things we were rehearsing at that time. 

Every rehearsal of Les Noces was attended by the composer, Igor 
Stravinsky, but not by any means as a simple spectator, for nothing could 
exceed his eager interest. To begin, he would only indicate roughly what 
was meant, but soon he was angrily gesticulating, and then, thoroughly 
aroused, would take off his coat, sit down to the piano and, reproducing 
all the symphonic sonority of the work, begin singing in a kind of 
ecstatic, but terrible voice, which carried so much conviction that no one 
could have thought it comical. Often he would go on in this way till he 
was completely exhausted. But still, a new life would have been infused 
into the rehearsal, and the whole company would start dancing for all it 
was worth. Practice ended, he would put on his coat, raise the collar, 
and walk off to the bar, a weak and pimy little man. And it seemed 
strange that this aU-but-common-place-looking mortal (though his indi- 
vidual and striking features distinguished him from all others) had, a 
moment before, been a composer of genius. 



SERGE DJAGHILEV 


Z^6 

Stravinsky, like everyone else, was delighted with the choreography 
and setting in which Nijinska and Goncharova were attempting to cap- 
ture something of the Russian popular print. Because it was first to em- 
ploy mass movement in the dance, the Russian Ballet, through Les Noces, 
was brought closer, though in slight degree, to the Russia of the Soviets, 
with its deification of the masses and its oppression of the individual. 
Choreographically, the aesthetic basis of this ballet was a combining. of 
sharp angular movements with the soft harmonious flowings of the 
groups. This was particularly apparent in the first female tableau, the 
robing of the bride, where the hands and feet were held in normal but 
intentionally ungainly positions (though for some reason this ungainli- 
ness appeared as a hunch). Here the dancers, with their accomplished 
technique, excelled themselves as successfully as they conveyed the under- 
lying mysticism of the ballet by the expression of their faces and move- 
ments. The leitmotiv, and possibly the best moment in the ballet, is the 
pas de bourrie which the women dance on their toes, thus producing a 
harmonious silhouette, while the men dance accenting the beat. The slow, 
flowing movement of the groups is very beautiful. 

Diaghilev soon began to pay attention to my work at rehearsals. Even 
in February, 1923, he had praised me and uttered words which filled me 
with joy and pride: 

“This is good, young man, quite good. Go on working hard.” 

And I began to work harder than ever, spending innumerable hours 
in our long, low, basement rehearsal hall, with its vaulted ceiling. 

On March 13th I made two tours in front of Serge Pavlovitch, on 
March 22nd an entrechat-six — ^and noticed in his eyes an expression of 
gentle approval. 

I now found myself in a very different mood from that succeeding 
my arrival when, in moments of despair, I thought of returning to Kiev, 
for anyway “nothing would come of it.” Now a hope, though faint at 
first, had begun to wake in my heart that nevertheless something might 
still “come of it.” Then, soon after, I almost got a part. 

At one of the rehearsals of Schiherazade Diaghilev turned to- Grigoriev 
and said, the whole company being present: 

“Put Lifar as the boy dying on the stairs, he seems to suit the part.” 

Grigoriev gave me the part, but now my teacher, Bronislava Nijinska, 
intervened: 

“No, Serge Pavlovitch, LiEar is still too inexperienced for a part of his 
own, he has still a lot to see and learn. Give the part to Slavinsky, who 
has more experience and talent.” 

“Very well,” said Diaghilev, “let Slavinsky do the part, and let LiEar 
watch: but he will soon be dancing on his own. He’s still young and 
inexperienced, it’s true, but you’ll see, Bronia, when he grows up, he’ll 
be a second Nijinsky.” 



IN THE CX>RPS DE BAEUET 257 

Bronia pursed up her lips, but did not answer, while I ... I seemed to 
sprout wings, and my heart fluttered like a joyful bird. On wings of joy, 
as though the leading part were now my own instead of the trifling 
part I had almost been given, I walked about Monte Carlo like a victor, 
and threw myself into my work with tripled energy, determinoi to prove 
my^lf worthy of Diaghilev’s confidence. 

On April 17th, 1923, our first performance took place and I made my 
debut in the back ranks of the corps de bcdlet in Le Mariage d^Aurore, 
So terrified was I of coming out on the stage, that I grew numb and 
unable to move a single step, whereupon my colleagues thrust me forcibly 
out. The instant I found myself on the stage, however, another strange 
feeling at once possessed me, as though some other person had been put 
in my place, as though I had become a wholly difierent being, no longer 
myself, but someone springy, thrilled, heroic. . . . Suddenly I forgot to 
think. But I forgot nothing of my movements. 

Then began the thorny path of Monte Carlo: rehearsals by day, per- 
formances at night. Often the Prince and Princess of Monaco were 
present, often they came to rehearsals, and then they would send cham- 
pagne to the whole company, half a bottle per person. We found it 
immensely stimulating, but still I lost strength daily, and sufiered greatly 
from dizziness as a result of too strenuous work and insufficient sleep. 

During that spring at Monte Carlo I went to bed late, rose with the 
dawn, and, all alone, hurried into the mountains to see the sun rise 
from La Turbie. There was something so precious and near to me in 
these gradually imveiling immensities that I could not tear myself away, 
could not move. , . . Then, suddenly, I would be seized with terror lest I 
should be late, and rush panting down, only to arrive long before anyone 
had reached the theater. At rehearsal after my lesson, black zigzag circles 
would float in front of my eyes, my head reeled, and such weariness over- 
came me that everything dropped from my hands, and it was all I could 
do to keep myself from falling. 

At one such rehearsal, Schchirazade, when I could barely stand on my 
feet, and nothing I did would go right, Diaghilev, in a fury, began 
shoutmg: 

“What’s the matter? Don’t you understand what you’re expected to do, 
or can’t you dance?” 

After rehearsal. Serge Pavlovitch called me over and I went up to him, 
feeling more dead than alive, so great was the fear with which he in- 
spired me: “What’s the matter with you, young man? You look des- 
perately ill. What are you doing about it?” 

Such was my embarrassment in Diaghilev’s presence that I always lost 
the power of speaking, and here he was talking to me personally, point 
blank I Like a sheep, I began to peer helplessly in all directions, though 
still unable to utter a word. 

“How old are you?” Diaghilev went on. 



Z$S SERGE DIAGHILEV 

“Eighteen,” I replied at last, like a schoolboy who has omitted to do 
his homework. 

“The best years I And with your eighteen years you probably imagine 
yourself grown-up, and go whoring with women. Well, in that case, 
young man, you’ll soon philander your talent away, and never be a 
dancer. Shame on you, I had put such hopes in you.” 

“Serge Pavlovitch, I ... I don’t . . . philander.” 

“No? What is it, then? Why do you look so ill?” 

“I’m not ill.” 

“But what is it? Tell me a little about yourself, your life.” 

Tell Serge Pavlovitch about my life, my dreams! My tongue utterly 
refused to obey me, and I continued to maintain my ridiculous, my des- 
perate silence. 

“Well, come on, young man. You’re not dumb, I hope? When do you 
get up?” 

“At five.” 

“Five? What do you do at five, when everyone else is asleep?” 

“I do nothing ... I ... I go for a walk in the hills. . . .” 

Serge Pavlovitch burst out laughing, a merry, loud, pleased laugh. 

“Why, you must be crazy! Can a dancer lead such a life? A dancer 
should work and rest, not exhaust himself with walks, either during the 
day or night. I forbid you to go on vdth them, do you hear? I forbid you, 
and you must promise to obey me, and not do anything so idiotic again.” 

I promised Diaghilev not to go to La Turbie again, and soon after we 
left for Paris, via Lyons and Montreux, On my arrival I rented a room, in 
a small hotel, in the rue de I’Ours. That year there were so many people 
in Paris that it was almost impossible to find a room, and for the first 
night we dancers had to sleep in the rehearsal room at the theater. I had 
to lead a modest, very modest life, and I could only allow myself half a 
cigarette after each meal, for my monthly wages amounted to no more 
than 800 francs, from which were deducted sums I had borrowed in 
advance for the purchase of sundry small necessities and my uniform. 
We, the “boys” of the company, wore a uniform, consisting of black 
breeches with five buttons at the knees, white shirts with rolled sleeves, 
white stockings and black shoes. The shoes were distributed by the man- 
agement, not very regularly, once a fortnight. 

Life in small, shady hotels, first in the rue de I’Ours, then in the rue 
de Lappe, hid from me that other real and most dazzling Paris; indeed, 
the capital of the world hardly seemed to exist for me in that June of 1923. 
Meanwhile, rehearsals and performances went forward in the Gaiet^ 
Lyrique, where Stravinsky’s Les Noces proved an immense success. But 
about this time our company went on strike for higher wages, and though 
we all gathered in the Gaiete Lyrique, not one of us would begin re- 
hearsing. A little later Diaghilev appeared, easy and confident as ever, and 
in the presence of us all listened patiendy to our collective demands 



IN THE CORPS DE BAIXET ^59 

through the mouth o£ a spokesman, after which, very calmly (though 
one might guess at a certain nervousness by his pallor) he said: 

“Ladies and gentlemen, you demand the impossible. I take good care 
of you, you know that, and I do the utmost I can. I know your wages 
are not su&ient, and should like to be able to increase them, bccaxxse I 
value your work: but there are limits that can’t be overstepped, if one 
wishes to preserve our great common cause, which you should love and 
dberish as much as I do. Calm yourselves;, ladies and gentlemen, think 
it all over and, I beg of you, begin working, we can’t afford to miss even 
a day or an hour.” Then, as though detecting some indication of “per- 
suasion” in his words, he stopped short, and ending somewhat dryly, 
added: “Of course, you are at liberty to do as you please, so whoever 
feels loath to work may leave the Russian Ballet. Good-by, ladies and 
gentlemen.” 

Whereupon the whole company became aware that it had entered into 
collision with the wall of Diaghilev’s immutable will, impregnable to 
any of their futile, petty assaults, and immediately began rehearsing. The 
strike ended in a general disturbance of quite another kind, for Tcher- 
nicheva’s bag, with a diamond clasp, proved to have been stolen. 

Here, in Paris, our company was increased by one very important mem- 
ber; for, from Romanov’s Romantic Theater in Berlin, arrived Alice 
Nikitina, my colleague in the ballet school and permanent partner, who 
later acquired an outstanding position in the ballet. She was a gifted 
dancer, who more than anything (save trinkets) loved dancing, but she 
often antagonized Diaghilev by attempting to get this or that other part 
by pulling all sorts of strings. 

Now, an i mm ense exhilarating travail began at the Gaiete Lyrique, 
and in the Princesse de Polignac’s large salon, where we held our first 
musical rehearsal of Les Noces. 

Stravinsky was conducting. Round Diaghilev were Nijinska, all our 
leading artists, and the whole musical world of Paris. I sat on the floor, 
absorbing the music and rhythms, and floating away, as it were, into the 
inner world of this ballet. ITie powerful sounds enthralled me, swept me 
on, thrilled me with their mystery, their timelessness and illimitable space, 
their wild Russian upsurge. Both body and soul seemed as though shat- 
tered by the Russian dance tunes, the sad music of the ritual folk songs 
sent a pang through the heart, and the church bells of mysterious old 
Asiatic Russia sounded prenatally familiar and moving, as I wondered 
what could have made the ancient Russia of Boris Godunov so well 
known and so familiar to me. Did ancestors pass on these memories with 
their blood? Which took precedence in my soul, Pushkin’s verse or 
Mussorgsky’s music? ... I seem to be afire with all that this music has 
brought me, widi the knowledge that now it is mine, that now it is deep 
in my soul, Diaghilev looks at us kindly and smiles the smile of a great, 
loving, omniscient father. Princess de Polignac embraces Stravinsky, and 



2.60 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

loads us all with attentions. We, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, the leading actors, 
the cor^s de ballet, are all overwhelmed with a happiness which brings 
us close to each other, and we know our success is assured. 

And so it happens. "Les Noces, Petrouch\a, Prince Igor are produced at 
the Gaiete Lyrique on the 13th of July. After Les Noces some of the 
audience begin hissing, but only to be drowned by the applause, which 
goes on increasing until it becomes a veritable ovation. 

At one of the rehearsals of Petrouch\a, I had improvised the part of a 
boy playing a concertina, and must obviously have done well, for A. N. 
Benois came up to me afterwards, saying: “My heartiest compliments 
and congratulations on your part.” 

Then, in June of the same year, Diaghilev gave a performance in the 
Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, in the presence of Poincar^ various min- 
isters, and many French notables. 

Perhaps the very solemnity attaching to this magnificent palace made 
an impression on the company, but we danced as never before, ending 
to a burst of stupendous, deafening applause, unique in the theatrical 
annals of France, and comparable only with our London triumphs. A talk 
with Diaghilev, which belongs to this time, moved me deeply. 

Though our work at Versailles was hard, there was no doubt that 
Diaghilev worked considerably harder, for he was present at every re- 
hearsal and remained behind after we left. And all this despite the 
incredible heat, for June that year was unimaginably hot. 

Thus, after we had had our last rehearsal, Diaghilev dismissed the 
company for lunch, and was left alone in the Hall of Mirrors. I crossed 
the square to a small restaurant, but as I was eating, the thought flashed 
through my mind that though we were lunching, poor Serge Pavlovitch 
must be overcome with hunger, thirst and the heat, while completely 
exhausted -with work. So I thought . . . and with my few poor pennies 
went and got him some sandwiches and a bottle of beer. Then I returned 
to the Hall of Mirrors, placed the beer and sandwiches in front of him, 
and then and then only realized how bold I had been, and blushed with 
confusion. Serge Pavlovitch looked at me intendy, his eyes seemed to 
jump over the monocle, while I turned pale under his glance. 

“How nice of you, young man! I*m very much touched that you should 
have thought of me,” Diaghilev was saying, as a hot maiden flush dyed 
my cheeks. What frightened me most was the thought that Diaghilev 
might ask me to stay and so I might have to talk. I, therefore, turned 
quickly away, and doing my best not to listen, though even so I could 
not help hearing his “Where are you running away to?” dashed through 
the Hall of MKrrors. 

On the 30th of June we did our Louis XTV in the Theater of the 
Palace, at which for the first time, and especially for Diaghilev’s ballet, 
electricity was employed for lighting. The performance began at 10 p.m:. 
and continued with festive music and a fireworks display far into the 



IN THE CORPS DE BAXXET z 6 t 

perfect June night. It was like ^dryland. This remarkable ballet closed 
our season, after which we dispersed in all directions. 

When the party was over I summoned up all my courage and, ap- 
proaching Diaghilev, asked him to allow me to have a program to keep 
as a souvenir. 

“Very well, Lifar, come and see me tomorrow, and I’ll give you the 
program.” 

I do not myself understand what kept me from going to see Diaghilev 
next day, and Serge Pavlovitch would often refer to this incident in later 
days, and say: 

“Why didn’t you come to fetch your program? It would all have 
turned out so dijSE^erendy, and you would never have lost a whole year.” 

Widiout saying good-by to Diaghilev I left Versailles, and for the next 
ten weeks established myself in a tiny hamlet near Chartres. There — ^in 
this almost Russian village — ^I spent my summer holiday. 

The days flew by unnoticed, calm and blank. Then again came work 
and travel. All that autumn we were traveling through Switzerland, 
Belgium, Holland, and finally reached Monte Carlo on October 25di. 
About this time, too, Pavel Georgievitch Koribut-Kubitovitch arrived 
from Russia. Active, responsive and with a stately presence, the old 
gentleman, Diaghilev’s cousin, instantly won all our trust and affection. 
Later, I was to find in him all the qualities of a real “nurse,” and in fact 
throughout all this Diaghilev period of my life, I was never so intimate 
with anyone as with him. 

From the very moment of his arrival Koribut-Kubitovitch entered com- 
pletely into our life, shared all our joys and sorrows, was inseparable from 
us, and at Diaghilev’s death lived wholly in the memory of him and his 
ballet, and made our Monte Carlo his home. He was the only man round 
Diaghilev whom the company loved and treated as one of themselves, 
and. that in spite of his being Diaghilev’s cousin. He was its mascot, and 
was never weary in its defense. Nothing but good did he ever say of us, 
at which his cousin would angrily cry: 

“What’s all this hole-and-corner whispering with the artists? Why 
don’t I hear anything? What’s the meaning of this familiarity and 
gossip ?” 

With Pavel Georgievitch’s arrival, a new link was established between 
Diaghilev and mysdtf, and two pairs of eyes were now watching me, for, 
as he told me later, he was able thenceforth to watch my every step with 
the aid of his faithful Vassili. Nevertheless, I continued to avoid any meet- 
ing wilh Diaghilev. But now it was not confusion and timidity which 
overcame me in his presence^ but a strange restlessness. Something within 
told me (possibly because his monocle and glance were constandy 
focused on me) fhat Diaghilev was anxious we should meet and talk 
together. But, whether through timidity (was it only timidity?), I feared 
this talk, and strove to stave it ofi. However, towards the end of October 



z 62 . serge diaghilev 

I found I was caught, for hurrying past the casino after bathing, I ran 
straight into him. 

“Where are you hurrying so fast, young man?” 

Completely taken aback, with lowered eyes and faltering heart, I man- 
aged to stammer: 

“Good morning. Serge Pavlovitch,” and made as if to hurry past. 

“Why are you so afraid of me, and run away all the time? Do you 
think I’m a wolf and will gobble you up? Don’t be afraid, I’m not as 
fierce as I look.” 

I scuffled helplessly with my foot, fearful of glancing at Serge Pavlo- 
vitch, fearful of uttering even a word. 

“I . . . I’m not afraid . . . I . . . was hurrying home. . . And still my feet 
went on scuffling the ground, till finally there burst .from me a timid 
and desperate: 

“Good-by, Serge Pavlovitch.” 

But now Diaghilev felt some annoyance. 

“My stopping you, and wanting to talk to you, is on your account, 
not mine, and that you don’t seem able to understand. I’ve been interested 
in you for a long time, you seem to me different from the other boys, 
more talented, and with a more inquiring nature. But yet you lead just 
the same colorless, dull, empty, uninteresting life as they do. I want to help 
you to develop, to improve your talents. But you don’t seem to under- 
stand any of that, and run away from me as though I were something 
fierce. Very well! Do as you like, it’s your own ajEEair. You think, per- 
haps, that I’ll go down on my knees and beg of you? You’re wrong, 
young man! You are not the only young man in the world, and I’ll prove 
it to you. A treasure indeed! One takes an interest in him, wants to help 
him, and he just turns up his nose! In that case, go to the devil, I’ve no 
further use for you! . . . What are you standing there for? Go home, as 
you wish.” 

Heavens! what have I done? 

The day after this conversation Diaghilev left for Paris, returning on 
November 3rd, but not alone, for now an Englishman, Anton Dolin, 
accompanied him. This Dolin was a pupil of Astafieva’s, and had danced 
in Diaghilev’s corps de ballet during the 1921 London productions of The 
Sleeping Beauty, under the name of Patrikeeff. 

And now again Diaghilev ceased to pay me any attention, seemed never 
to see me or be in my path. Again he had become a distant divinity 

I went on practicing my art, working assiduously, and improving 
gready. That winter of 1923-24 marked an important epoch in my life. 
In spite of the fact that I felt really unwell, that I suffered from con- 
tinuous headaches, certain ominous stabbing pains in the heart, and a con- 
stant feeling of weakness, nevertheless my successes seemed to have lent 
me wrings. By the end of January I could do six tours with ease, by the 



IN THE CORPS DE BAIXET z6^ 

end o£ February seven pirouettes and three tours en Voir. On New Year's 
Day I had made a bet with Zverov that I would do six pirouettes and two 
tours en Vmr^ and won it on April 4th. On the 15th, in the presence o£ 
the whole company, I performed eight classical pirouettes vsdth such per- 
fection and finish that all were amazed. My facility in mastering tech- 
nique was a great source of joy to me . . . and yet, of great bitterness also. 
However great my ecstasy at feeling so light, so springy, so wafted away 
might be, there was always the bitter knowledge that everyone in the 
company watched these successes with obvious spite and envy. Not only 
did they give me no support, but they would put themselves out to find 
faults that did not even exist, and criticize me with the utmost ferocity. 
Even when I had accomplished three impeccable tours en Vair, VHzak, 
who had never been able to do as much, said, as he gave a derisive 
shrug of the shoulder: “You call these tours en Vairt Why, anyone can 
do that kind of thing 1 It’s pure athletics, not dancing I” 

My diary for November 30th, 1923, I find, contains the following 
entry: “I am trying to come to a decision over something of the utmost 
importance to me. Would it not be better to give up practicing entirely, 
and simply remain an ordinary member of the corps de ballet? The better 
I dance, the more I learn and work and show promise, the worse they 
treat me. There is a heavy weight in my heart. Perhaps I should give up 
dancing altogether?” 

Soon after, however, I forgot all my resentment, for meanwhile I had 
found powerful support. Actually, no jealousy in the world could have 
stood in the way of my ambitions, for they were stronger than I, and 
could never have been diverted. 

That November, December and January the company was dancing in 
Monte Carlo. In all, we gave foily performances in the presence of prac- 
tically all Diaghilev’s collaborators — Cocteau, Poulenc, Auric, Braque, 
Gris, Milhaud, Picasso, Benois, and Trubnikov. 

Meanwhile, at the very beginning of the season, I had won praise from 
Diaghilev for the excellence of my miming in Petrouch\a and Prince 
Igor, Now, he again began to watch my work at rehearsals. My colleagues 
congratulated me on my progress, and predicted I should soon be premier 
danseur, with a leading part in a ballet. Then in December came my first 
part. Diaghilev was beginning to test my capacity, and entrusted me with 
Slavinsky’s part as the dying slave in SchehSrazade. Anxious to do my 
best, I went to the theater before the performance began, and with the 
Monte Carlo supers, began working on the finale. It was a tiny episode 
depicting the death of an insignificant boy, but into it I put everything I 
was capable of, all it meant to me, contempt of death, and a challenge. In 
this finale I had to dart on the stage, run the gaundet of men armed 
with long swords, then, in a long staggering leap, bring myself to the 
negroes’ tent, and unexpectedly appear from the other side, run up die 
stairs, and there die. At the actual performance I acted my part with joy 



z 64 serge diaghelev 

and enthusiasm, though fearful of being taken to task for so freely in- 
terpreting my part. It was with some agitation, therefore, that I awaited 
the end of the performance. But Diaghilev gave no sign of disapproval 
or of wishing to remove me from the part, and I took it therefore as ap- 
proval, and felt stimulated and encouraged. At one performance of this 
ballet I was bold enough to carry my improvisation even further. Just 
as Grigoriev and Tchernicheva (his wife) were miming the jealousy 
scene, in one mad rush I reached the top of the stairs, hung for an instant 
precariously balanced, and then, with several half-stops, began to hurde 
down them to frightened cries of “Oh** from all parts of the audiaice, 
and, rolling to the foodights, died to thunderous applause. Curtain, calls! 

. . . But when the footlights had gone out, and I returned to the wings, 
I was met by the furious Grigoriev: “I will never forgive you,’* he shouted. 
“Dare ever again to spoil the artists’ parts, and in two twos you’ll be 
thrown out of the company. You forget yourself, you miserable corps de 
ballet boy. You seem to ^ink you’re a leading dancer. Yoii wait till 
Diaghilev’s done with you. He’s furious with you for your outrageous be- 
havior, and you know very well you can’t take liberties with him.” 

Thereupon Diaghilev appeared, asked everyone to stay, and in front 
of them all reprimanded me, unmistakably indeed, yet it was kindly 
too, and in no wise threatening: “What you did, Lifar, was very inar- 
tistic and youthful, very green. I can’t help regretting seeing you use your 
talent to the detriment of the ensemble instead of trying to support it 
by disciplining yourself. The art of an actor with only a minor part con- 
sists in performing it with perfect artistry as a minor part, and not in any 
way trying to eclipse the principals, thereby distracting the audience 
from the main action on the stage. All artists must take their instruc- 
tions from the producer and never depart from them in any way: he is 
responsible for you all to the ballet master, and me.” Then followed a 
short silence, after which, having obviously decided to cut his speech 
short, Diaghilev ended: "If you intend to go on submitting to every 
fantasy that comes into your mind, and disobeying orders, I shall have to 
have you fined!” 

I duly absorbed it all, but it was more words like “your talent” and 
“I shall hai/e to have you fined” that stuck in my mind than those ex- 
pressing disapproval. Meanwhile, I was gazing at his smiling eyes, inno- 
cent of any trace of anger, which seemed to be saying, “A good lad, all 
the same! Better imagination and miming than the dancers dancing the 
leading roles (not outstanding artists, but dancers who just happened to 
have the outstanding rdles).” 

During December we put on a season of classical ballet for which 
Diaghilev specially engaged Mile. Vera Trefilova. Four times she danced 
in Le Lac des Cygnes with, dazzling distinction, grace and technique, giv- 
ing altogether a most moving performance. Her thirty-two fouettis in 



IN THE CORPS PE BAELET 2.6$ 

the second scene^ and the brilliant manner of their execution^ .will remain 
forever engraved on my memory. 

On November 2and I was sent on in one of Trefilova’s performances 
to dance in the first pair of czardas. Diaghilev praised my performance 
warmly, and as a result gave me my first real part, that of an officer 
in a new ballet called JLes Fdcheux, I rehearsed this ballet for the first 
time on January 15th, 1924, and at the first night on the nineteenth ac- 
quitted myself brilliantly, or so my colleagues earnestly assured me. 

This production of Les Fdcheux was made notable by the fact that 
Diaghilev dismissed the ballerina Maikerska for her refusal to dance 
the part of the naked nymph, and by the impleasantness caused when 
Idzikowsky left the ballet just at this time. In him, our company lost 
one of the most brilliant virtuosi of classical dancing, whose "elevation,” 
as Cecchetti told me, was better than Nijinsky^s except in the grand jeti, 

I was beginning to make my mark among the youngsters of the corps 
de ballet, and as a result Diaghilev’s co-workers began to "discover” me. 
To me, and me alone of all the company, they showed especial attention 
and sympathy. They would often invite me to the Cafe de Paris, to 
restaurants and shows. Diaghilev was not merely displeased, he was 
positively angry, and would furiously accuse his friends of "depraving 
and ruining” the company, destroying discipline, and leading young 
dancers astray. 

I remember an occasion when I had been asked to go to the Caf^ de 
Paris, and we were all sitting at a couple of tables, drinking coffiee, when 
suddenly Diaghilev appeared, accompanied by Kokhno and Dolin. There 
and then he came up to us, and almost shoudng, declared he did not 
intend to allow such a disgraceful practice to continue, that Lifar needed 
to work, and not waste his time sitting about in caf&, and that his col- 
laborators were evidently intent on hindering his work and meant to 
destroy the Ballet which he, with such difficulty, had managed to areate 
through fifteen long years of effort. 

On another occasion I had been invited by friends to one of our own 
performances, although it was against our rules for any of us ever to be 
seen in front of the curtain. My seat was next that of Cocteau, Auric, 
Trubnikov and others. Diaghilev came in, and, adjusting his monocle, 
saw us all: whereupon the right side of his face began nervously twitch- 
ing, his eyebrows rose, and moving towards us, in a perturbed, irritated 
voice, he began to address me as follows: "If I am not mistaken, you, 
young man, are in your second year in the company, and should be 
aware that the management has forbidden members of the corps de 
to occupy seats intended for the paying public.” 

During the entr’acte he met me in the foyer, and literally threw me 
out: 

"I forbid you, once and for all, to be seen in a theater. If you don’t 
choose to obey m^ you’re at liberty to leave the company, and spend 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


Z66 

all your niglits in the front row with Jeanchik.® I keep nobody by force 
in my ballet.” 

Some few days later, happening to rim into these friends in the street, 
I was made aware that they had decided to cut me, in their fear of 
Diaghilev’s scenes. 

What was so puzzling was that Diaghilev was obviously angry with 
me, while giving me full support on the stage. He also disliked his col- 
laborators’ coming to watch me rehearsing alone, in spite of their pleasure 
in doing so. 

January 31st marked the last and forty-first performance (a charity 
performance) of our winter season in Monte Carlo, and with it de- 
parted our honored guests. I was almost glad of the fact. 

Next began a short spring season which lasted less than a month. 
About the time it opened I asked Diaghilev to increase my salary, and 
was accorded 200 francs. Four of us, boys of the corps de bcdlet, went 
with a similar request to Gunsburg, manager of the Monte Carlo Opera 
House, where we were paid fifteen francs a performance, but met with 
a flat refusal. 

The future historian of the theater will linger over this somewhat orig- 
inal, anecdotal figure, while attaching due weight to his propagandist ac- 
tivities in popularizing Russian music and Wagner, for it was he who 
staged the first performance of Parsifal in France. 

Since Gunsburg had refused any increase in our salaries, we resolved to 
bungle our dance at the next performance, a plot made possible by the 
fact that Diaghilev happened to be in Paris, and thus we should be safe 
from any consequences. The performance was Aida, in which one of 
the most successful items is always the ballet number. We began to dance 
our parts as Arab boys, and keeping my word as arranged, I managed 
to slip and fall, while my three colleagues continued with the most per- 
fect accuracy. As bad luck would have it, Diaghilev had returned from 
Paris, was in the auditorium and saw my performance. 

Thereupon he sent Kokhno to Grigoriev with an order to assemble 
the company on the stage after the performance, and then, appearing him- 
self, turned the full blast of his fury on me. “You seem to have absolutely 
forgotten how to dance, Lifar, and are a disgrace to my company. I am 
certain there is some disgusting prank at the back of it, but you must 
take this as your first warning.” 

Nevertheless, a few days later Diaghilev asked me to have myself photo- 
graphed as the ofiicer in Fdcheux in order to have some for his book, 
and himself ordered three of them. 

The season being concluded, we went to Barcelona, where we gave 
eleven performances in all. It was a busy time, indeed, with performances 
in the evening and rehearsals for the Paris season by day. 

On April 25th we had our first rehearsal of the Cocteau-Milhaud ballet 

° Cocteau. 



IN THE CORPS DE BAIXET 2,Sj 

Ijc Train Bleu. Before we started, Diaghilev assembled us all to hear a 
lecture on Milhaud* Briefly outlining the modernistic music, already 
known to the troupe, of Stravinsky and Richard Strauss, which ignores 
thematic melody and strives for color, rhythm, and angularity in order 
to express the feverish, nervous pulse of our day, Diaghilev went on to 
tell us how he foresaw the music of the future, which seemed to him 
exemplified by Milhaud’s music with its new thematic material and its 
still unfamiliar, melodic line, which no longer derived from the school 
of bel canto , but from that of the street. 

“You are already acquainted with the poetry of machinery, skyscrapers, 
transatlantic liners; now you must absorb the poetry of the streets, their 
tempo, and think seriously about it. You must not let the ‘banality* of 
this new music of the future frighten you off. Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet, 
the first ballet in the world, cannot afford to mark time, cannot be 
content with yesterday, or even the present alone. It must forestall the 
future, and predict tomorrow; must lead the masses and discover what 
no one has discovered before. To me, our new ballet seems of the 
greatest importance, and my wish is that you should treat it as it deserves, 
and so help to conquer ‘tomorrow.’ ” 

Diaghilev had no particular eloquence as a speaker. At times he would 
omit some word he had obviously intended to use, and substitute another 
more adapted to his audience; nevertheless he spoke so clearly and with 
such conviction, his meaning was so clear, that his average and not par- 
ticularly cultured audience could not fail to be convinced by him. A keen 
desire to do the new work justice infected us all. 

On Diaghilev’s insistence Mme. Nijinska agreed to give me a part at 
the beginning of the ballet. I was the youngest. Need I say I was in 
the seventh heaven of delight? 

In Barcelona I paid frequent visits to the numerous cabarets, and 
found them a veritable revelation to me. Even in the smallest the dancing 
would be good, and at night the whole town seemed to be dancing! In 
places like the Casa Rosso, the Cuadro Flamenco, or the Sevilla, one 
would find astonishingly gifted dancers. I remember that one day as I 
was sitting in the Sevilla, with several of our ballerinas, Diaghilev came 
in with Nijinska, Anton Dolin and Kokhno. He was in an excellent 
mood, and chatted amiably with us across the tables, expressed entire ap- 
proval of my frequenting such places, and assured me I should find it 
of the utmost value to my dancing. It was at the Cuadro Flamenco that 
I had the privilege of seeing the famous Macarona, Diaghilev’s favorite 
dancer, a huge, fat old woman of about sixty, doing her famous dance 
with a train. I was so carried away that I immediately began learning 
Spanish dances, and took several lessons in the use of the castanets. 

On May ist we gave our eleventh and last performance, and next day 
left for Paris. On the journey, during the halt at Toulouse, I happened to 
hurt my head badly, and as at the time Diaghilev was sitting in our 



26S serge DIAGHILEV 

carriage, I am afraid it proved rather a shock. I had suddenly thought of 
doing two tours en Vair in the carriage. The first were brilliant, but the 
next smashed the top light to fragments, and I dropped to the floor 
like a sack, with my head cut open. In the first instant Diaghilev was 
quite transfixed with terror, thinking I was killed, but when I got up and 
forced a smile in spite of my pain, his anger went beyond all bounds. 
Once we had arrived in Paris Diaghilev insisted on my seeing a doctor, 
but nothing serious was found, and next day I left with the others for a 
tour in Holland, 

Another! interesting chance meeting with Diaghilev took place in 
Amsterdam. In those days I was so intent on self-improvement that the 
moment we arrived anywhere fresh I would hurry o£E immediately to 
the local museums. The very day after our arrival therefore, I hastened to 
the Rijks Museum to see the Rembrandts. I had only the vaguest ac- 
quaintance with Dutch painting; all I knew of it, in fact, being that I 
had conscientiously studied every one of the Dutch paintings in the 
Louvre, though I confess they meant litde to me, and often frankly bored 
me. 

However, once I was in the enormous museum, I soon found myself 
utterly lost, and for a long time failed to find what I was seeking. But 
at last I hit upon the gallery of old masters, and discovered the Rem- 
brandts which I had always yearned to see, the celebrated “Night Watch,” 
the “Cloth Guild” and the “Anatomy Lesson,” the last of which especially 
impressed me. 

Then, in this room, in front of a picture by Hals, I suddenly saw a 
group I so well knew already, Diaghilev, Dolin and Kokhno, and heard 
Diaghilev analyzing it. He seemed to be discussing the early influence of 
Hals on Rembrandt, and the later influence of Rembrandt on Hals. I 
saw him glance swifdy at me in astonishment, even amazement, so 
puzzled was he to find me there. “What on earth can this lad from the 
corps de ballet be doing here? . . 

On May 13th we returned to Paris. And now Paris enslaved me once 
and for all. My Htde hotel room in the rue Victoire was far too small to 
do any work, and so my rehearsing was done in the street on the bright 
asphalt, between midnight and two. Round me the windows of “gay 
houses” would gradually open and faces, astonished at first but gradually 
serious and interested, would watch me going through my exercises. 

Now we rehearsed in the Theatre de Paris, and before brilliant, highly- 
enthusiastic onlookers. Mme. Sert and Chanel were often present, and 
here, for the first time, I saw the women who, with the Princess de 
Pohgnac, played so exceedingly important a part in the annals of 
Diaghilev’s ballet. 

I remember we were rehearsing lue Train Bleu when Mme. Sert and 
Chanel for the first time saw me, and took an immediate liking to the 
litde dancer in the corps de ballet. 



INT THE CORPS DE BAIXET 269 

"Mats U est charmant, ce petit russe, regardc'leV’^ Madame Sert said 
to Diaghilev. 

And “Voild ton danseur!" said Chanel. 

“Eh, . . What? , . .You find him a good dancer, your ‘godson'?” 
Diaghilev was saying, with assumed indifference, as he adjusted his 
monocle, and threw me a sidelong glance as if in doubt as to who exaedy 
I might be, though all the time, by the expression in his smiling luminous 
eyes I could see how much it delighted him to hear his litde dancer 
praised. 

This glance, and what 1 had heard said by Mine. Sert and Chanel, 
redoubled my enthusiasm for my work, and encouraged me to greater 
achievements, I was aflame with ambition to turn myself into a truly 
great dancer, and just at this point Kremnev, who knew my zeal, uttered 
the words that set the match to the powder: 

“Do you know what, Lifar? You ought to be properly taught by 
Cecchetti, then something really worth while might <x)me out of you. 
Have a talk with Diaghilev about it.” 

Have a talk with Diaghilev? But how could I possibly think of such 
a thing? 

That year the season was a pardcularly brilliant one, both as regards 
music and the theater. So far as my modest means would allow, I did 
not miss a single interesting concert or performance, and greedily ab- 
sorbed all these new impressions. 

One of my most moving and significant experiences during this period 
in Paris was Anna Pavlova's appearance in her own productions. 

The moment she appeared on the stage I felt that I had never before 
set eyes on anything remotely comparable to such divine beauty and 
grace. Her airy lightness seemed to defy the very laws of gravity. I was 
shaken through and through, and completely enslaved by the simplicity, 
the ease, the plasticity of her art. Not one jouettS, not one trick of the 
virtuoso, but loveliness alone. She seemed to glide through the air with- 
out making the least effort, as though it were some divine Mozartian gift, 
which left her free to add nothing at all. In Anna Pavlova I saw not the 
dancer, but the very genius of the dance, as I prostrated myself before 
that divine manifestation. For the first moments I had no use for my 
reason; I could not, and dared not see any fault or imperfection. I was 
gazing at some divine revelation, I was no longer on this earth. 

All through the performance I felt either away up in the clouds or 
down on the earth. Now a divine gesture, or classical pose would make 
me tremble in reverent awe, then again a hint of unnecessary skittishness 
would appear in her miming, a taint of something akin to “stunting,” to 
cheapness even, and then my enthusiasm would suffer a severe blow. 

In the interval I met Diaghilev in the joyer (wherever I went that 
spring I was always meeting him) and on his asking how I had liked 
Pavlova, all I could do was stammer my enthusiasm: 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


270 

“Divine 1 Genius! Beautiful!” 

But there had been no need for Diaghilev to ask me my opinion, it 
was so clearly written on my face. Nevertheless, I did not dare to discuss 
either with Diaghilev or anyone else, the double effect I had experienced, 
that certain things in her dancing had seemed to me cheap and “faked.” 
I was all too sure I should be laughed at, and told I was blaspheming, or 
else that it was beyond my understanding. Later, however, I found I 
was not alone in my “blasphemy.” Diaghilev felt so himself, and told me 
much about Pavlova. 

Of the ballets seen that spring, another stands vividly out in my 
memory, Mercure, with Massine as the premier danseur: a night when 
Massine was late for the show, and the crowd tried to attack Picasso, 
who had designed the beautiful sets (perhaps the only noteworthy ballet 
in the whole performance, and that, perhaps, due wholly to the painter). 
I had heard so much about Massine, the late ballet master of the Rus- 
sian Ballet, that I was in a state of enormous expectation, and no litde 
emotion. But whereas Pavlova had been a genuine revelation, Massine, on 
the contrary, impressed me but little and was, indeed, almost a disap- 
pointment. Agreed, the music was lovely, well suited for dancing, the 
choreography excellent and technically most accomplished: nevertheless 
it all seemed so cerebral, so mannered, that I found not the least inspira- 
tion in his ballets. 

At this performance I once more met Diaghilev, but this time pale, 
agitated, nervous. 

Serge Pavlovitch felt that there was a threat to the Russian Ballet in 
these evenings of ballet presented by E. Beaumont. He was afraid of 
his ex-ballet master, now his rival. But the rival proved not to be danger- 
ous, and the performances were clearly a failure, except for Mercure 
alone. Later Diaghilev included Mercure in his own repertoire, though the 
ballet was created without him, by one of the men with whom he had 
once worked. 

Now I often went to concerts, and so heard a great deal of music all 
through that important significant spring. Particularly I remember the 
Stravinsky-Koussevitzky concert in the resplendent Opera House. Dur- 
ing the interval I was walking timidly about in the mirror-lined pompous 
foyer, in which .one instinctively seeks to muffle one’s steps, when yet 
again I met Diaghilev. I bowed and, as always, wished to pass by, but he 
approached me and gave me a cheerful greeting. Never before had I seen 
him so full of joy, or smiling so kindly. 

“I never thought, I never dreamed of meeting you here, my dear little 
flower, on the very day of our own Stravinsky! That means you really 
adore music and understand it!” And therewiA he began to shower me 
with numberless kind words, such as “Htde flower,” “litde berry,” “my 
darling good boy” . . . and all said so tenderly, with such kind simplicity, 
that my heart began to beat with gratitude and joy. It was the first J^ind^ 




Pas d’Acier, 1927 





nsr THE CORPS DE BAIXET XJT. 

ness 1 had ever received in my life (except from my mother). And 1 
had received it from whom? From Diaghilev, the great Diaghilev, my 
God, my Divinity! 

I have always regretted that I did not, at the time, make a detailed 
entry in my diary, recording the whole o£ the ensuing conversation, for 
I had always had the habit of putting down in it everything that in any 
way attracted my attention. All I did was merely to note the main out- 
lines. It was about women, and of Serge Pavlovitch*s jealousy in regard 

to them, where I was concerned Nevertheless, there was something else 

I noted with great completeness, and that was, that this conversation, so 
unexpected, so full of kindness and endearing words, did not come alto- 
gether as a surprise — as though, deep down at the bottom of my heart, I 
had for a long time felt that thus it must come. 

At Stravinsky’s concert I rejoiced whole-heartedly in Serge Pavlovitch’s 
kindness, in the charming things he had said and called m^ but once 
I was at home, a sudden sense of fear overcame me, as I remembered all 
that was said in the company about Diaghilev’s unusual life, his favorites 
and so forth. “Can it be possible,” I said to myself, “that I too am to be 
one of those future favorites of his, that even now he sees me in that 
light?” Though I was alone the thought flushed my cheeks a glowing 
crimson. But, immediately, I rejected every thought of such a possibility. 
“No, whatever you like but that, never! Never shall I become a ‘favorite’ ” 
. . . And there arose the memory of that faithful promise to my fairy- 
countess in Kiev, the vow the youthful knight and page had sworn that — 
for ten whole years even — ^he would wait. Yet two years only had passed. 
And now again, her image, with tormenting vividness, rose up in all 
the ineffable beauty endowed it by love as a result of two long years 
of separation and passionate longing. 

But how was I to keep my troth? The one solution, the only issue 
that presented itself, was to abandon Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet. But 
then what? For after Diaghilev, away from Diaghilev, there was no 
other company in the wide world that I could think of joining. ... So I 
decided to abandon the dance altogether, to bury deep the greatest dream 
of my life: that dream for which I had abandoned all — even her who had 
clung to my sleeve, as I said good-by before leaving for Paris . . . and 
Diaghilev. 

But to abandon the dance — was that not abandoning life too? What 
could life hold for me when that was accomplished? Nothing but 
emptiness! The world would have lost all its attraction for me. So I 
decided I would abandon that world for another. Once before, in Kiev, 
I had gone into retreat, had abandoned this world during fifteen months 
in order, solitary and alon^ to study dancing and books. Now I would 
choose for myself a final retreat, a monastery cell. And so I, the incor- 
rigible nineteen-year-old dreamer, began to dream of being a mon\ 
exaedy as before I had dreamed of her, of Diaghilev, of his ballet and 



SERGE DIAGHIEEV 


272 

the dance. But now, it was with a poet’s vision o£ the monastic life, with 
its lovely devotional seclusion, its rest and contemplation and prayer. 

I had made my decision. I would remain with the Ballet a fortnight 
longer, until the season came to an end, then take leave of Diaghilev 
and enter a monastery. But yet, that world from which I was about to 
retire, was spreading its nets, preparing to lure me with all its snares. . . . 

Then on the 20th of June the first performance of Le Train Bleu took 
place. It proved an immense personal success for Dolin. Before the dress 
rehearsal, however, Diaghilev happened to meet me in the Theatre des 
Champs Ely sees, and started a talk about my future. With excessive 
praise, and greatly exaggerating my merits, he said he considered me the 
most talented and capable of the male dancers in his company, and urged 
me to think of my career, and devote myself assiduously to working and 
learning. 

“I want you to become my leading dancer, and I shall make you my 
leading dancer. Come on Monday to see me at the Hotel St. James, but 
meanwhile keep our conversation a secret, and don’t mention it to any- 
one in the company.” 

On the twenty-fourth I called on Diaghilev as arranged, after a sleep- 
less night, for the more I had pondered his words the more I feared the 
future he was preparing for me. An immense, intolerable burden of re- 
sponsibility had seemed suddenly to descend with the words ‘‘most 
talented and capable” male dancer. It had been easy enough to dream 
in prison in Kiev about dancing, it was easy enough to imagine oneself 
leading dancer or, greatest dancer of all, when nobody paid the least at- 
tention to you, as a lad in the corps de ballet: easy enough while it was 
all far away and inaccessible; but now when, by Diaghilev’s will, I was 
on the threshold of either a great future or a great fall . . . my head swam, 
not with joy or a foretaste of future glory, for that seemed infinitely re- 
mote, but with fear, lest my shoulders should never be able to bear the 
burden of all Diaghilev wished to impose on them. And again, I felt I 
must leave the Ballet, leave it now, before it became too late, for that 
distant monastery, by the dream of which I had so often been haunted. 

In this mood, I reached the hall of the hotel, where Diaghilev greeted 
me with the utmost friendliness, and ordered tea for two. 

Suddenly I became bold. 

“Serge Pavlovitch, I should like to talk to you.” 

Diaghilev smiled. 

“Good, I also want to talk to you, and that’s why I asked you to come 
and see me. . . .But what is it you want to tell me.?” he says with a 
kind, warm-hearted smile. He is obviously in an excellent mood. 

Yet here I become timid again: but, overcoming that feeling, and try- 
ing hard not to look at him for fear my courage will fail, I begin 
stumblingly and shyly to say: 



m THB CORPS DE BAEUET ^73 

“I , , . for a long time . , . Serge Pavlovitch ... I have been wanting . . . 
I have been wanting to thank you for the season, and say good-by ... I 
intend ... I must go away next week . . 

“Why, where do you want to go, where are you thinking of spending 
your two months’ holiday? You know that the whole company has to be 
back by September ist, and that I dislike it very much when dancers over- 
stay their leave. Where do you intend going? I have a suggestion to make 
too However, tell me your plans first.” 

How am I to tell Diaghilev of my decision? 

“Serge Pavlovitch, it isn’t for the summer I’m going away; it’s for 
good , . . I’ve decided to leave the company — 

“What, what are you saying?” Diaghilev cries, turning purple and 
leaping out of his seat, whereupon an incredible thing happens, for he 
seizes the small table at which we are sitting, crashes everything on it 
to the floor, and begins to scream out in a choking voice, while the 
French, English and Americans in the hall sit transfixed: 

“What, you dare to say this to me, you imgrateful puppy? Do you 
realize all the ingratitude, the meanness, the insolence of what you’re 
saying? I brought you from Russia, I supported you for two years, taught 
you everything, you whipper-snapper, and now, now when I need you, 
you tell me you’re leaving my ballet! The impudence, the indecency of 
it! I can’t believe it’s your own idea, someone must have persuaded you, 
induced you to do it. . . . Tell me at once, which of the little sluts you are 
always running about with is it that is depraving you, teaching you to 
repay with ingratitude everything I have done to help you? I said I 
was counting on you in the future as my leading dancer, and so no doubt 
you imagined you were a first-rate dancer already. You’re wrong! At 
present you’re nothing, a nobody, and any other decent ballet company 
would have thrown you out long ago. I was talking of you as a future 
dancer, and that future is in my hands; if I want it so, you’ll be a first- 
class dancer, if not, you’ll be nothing, a speck of dust, a nonentity. . . . 
Well, if you want to resign, resign and go to the devil, all the devils! 
I’ve no use for such ungrateful beasts. To hell with you!” 

I said nothing to interrupt Serge Pavlovitch, but could not help look- 
ing at him with compassion, until, under the influence of my gaze, and 
no doubt because he felt he had had his say and was tired of shouting, 
Diaghilev grew calmer and continued more calmly: 

“I’ve said a lot of harsh things: forget them and let’s talk sense. . , . 
You really must understand, Lifar, that it isn’t right, that it looks like 
blackmail, and that all those little girls — ^I saw you again with some of 
them at Anna Pavlova’s performance, and I very much regret that you 
should entangle yourself with them — are doing you a disservice? I value 
your work, Lifar, and I won’t let you go to any other company. Now 
what do you want? Tell me frankly and openly. Your salary isn’t suf- 
ficient? You want a rise? Very well, you shall have it. . . 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


274 

Diaghilev’s outburst and the compassion I had felt, helped me to 
master my own feelings, and I said: 

‘*No, Serge Pavlovitch, it was never my intention to join some other 
company, and I don’t want a rise. I came here, not in order to ask you 
for something, but to thank you for all you have done for me, and to say 
good-by, for I am going into a monastery.” 

And now a new heart-rending scene occurred, for Diaghilev dropped 
his heavy head on the table, and began to weep with emotion: 

“So Russia, the real Russia, the Russia of the God-seekers, of the 
Karamazovs’, still exists. But you are Alyosha Karamazov, my poor boy! 
Poor children, bereft of your country, but still longing for it, longing for 
all by which your forefathers lived!” 

Then, getting up, he this time threw his arms about me, at which 
fresh consternation appeared on the faces of those sitting about in the 
hall. “Those Russians! One minute they’re breaking tables and crockery, 
shouting at the top of their voices, and the next, for no visible reason, 
they’re kissing each other in public!” 

“For this mad, irrational impulse, I love you even more, Alyosha! But 
what’s wrong? Why do you wish to bury your talent in a monastery, 
bury yourself away, commit suicide? It’s sheer madness, it’s impossible 
... I won’t allow such an act of self-destruction. What’s going on inside 
you? What can be behind this prompting to abandon a brilliant career, 
just as it’s beginning to open to you?” 

As well as I could, I tried to make him understand my spiritual con- 
dition, and especially the anxiety which the very brilliance of that future 
career now inspired in me. I said I felt hardly strong enough, and was 
afraid of being unable to justify his confidence, or the hopes he was 
building on me. 

Not so long ago you said you were relying on me as your future first 
dancer, but today, you said I was nothing, a mere nobody, and I can’t 
help wondering whether what you have just said isn’t truer than what 
you said first. It’s better to renounce dancing now than to turn into a 
failure, for that I could never survive. . . .” 

“Forget what I said in anger. I have faith in you; I can see — do you 
hear — ^I can actually see you one of the world’s great dancers with Spes- 
siva as your partner. I cannot be, I am sure I am not mistaken about you. 
It was not for nothing that you interested me from the first moment I 
saw you, or that I have been watching you all through. There is real 
talent in you, and your duty is to develop it to its fullest extent. You 
must work, overcome all diflSculties, not be afraid and try to desert. 
Everything must be paid for in this world. A man with determination 
and talent hasn’t the right to be a coward, or fold his arms and give 

up You must work, and I, on my side, will do everything I can 

to lighten your task. And first you must take a long holiday to mend 
your health, and store up some strength for work, for at present you 



ESr THE CORPS DE BAIJLET 2.y$ 

look like a plucked chicken. Name anywhere you like by the sea, 
don’t worry about the details. I’ll see to it all. Leave everything to me, 
I insist upon it, for you are the only person that matters to me in this 
ballet and but for you, I should have dispersed it all and retired long ago. 
I want to see what you develop into, I want to turn you into one of the 
world’s greatest dancers, a second Nijinsky.” 

These words impressed me profoundly. Never had I suspected that his 
interest in me was so great, or that he could so exaggerate my capacities. 
I knew I could never fulfill all he expected of me, yet nevertheless I 
was conquered, I lost all power to resist, there seemed nothing I could 
say, and I relinquished myself into his strong, kind hands. 

“If you feel so certain. Serge Pavlovitch, that something can be made 
of me, send me to Italy to study under Cecchetti. Maybe that will help. 
If not, so much the worse, for then I shall leave the Ballet.” 

“What an excellent, admirable idea! How on earth did you think of 
it.?” 

“Kremnev said I ought to be studying under Cecchetti.” 

“Fine lad, Kremnev 1 It really is a most excellent idea, and we must 
lose no time in acting on it. Come and see me tomorrow at five, bring 
your passport, we’ll talk it over again, and I’ll send a telegram to Mus- 
solini.” (Mussolini, in the old days, used to write the notices about the 
Ballet for his paper, and was on friendly terms with Diaghilev.) 

Next day found me punctually at the Hotel St. James. Diaghilev was 
waiting. We left in a taxi to go to the tailor’s where we ordered a suit, 
then went to buy shoes, a hat, and other small necessaries. That evening 
I went to the theater in the straw hat Diaghilev had bought me, where- 
upon I was greeted with such a burst of laughter from the whole com- 
pany (“Look! here comes our own little Maurice Chevalier I”) that, 
hating it myself, I was only too glad to resume my old cap. 

Next day I went once more to see Diaghilev, only to be greeted with 
some irritation. 

“Where is your new hat, young man?” 

Embarrasstti, I blushed, and hardly knew what to say. 

“Serge Pavlovitch, I took it o£E; it did not suit me.” 

Whereupon Diaghilev completely lost his temper, again in the hall 
and surrounded by strangers. 

“What? It doesn’t suit you? You suggest that I haven’t any taste, that 
I don’t know my business? You good-for-nothing brat, out of my sight, 
and don’t dare come back. I don’t ever want to see you again!” 

The whole room seemed to be looking at me; I felt eternally disgraced. 
And I went, thrown out by Diaghilev. . . . 

But I began to wear the straw hat again, though I did not see Diaghilev 
till June 30th, the date of our last performance. 

I happened to run into him before the performance, and now again he 
was smiling and kind. 



Zy6 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

“Ah, so you’re wearing my hat after all? So, in the end you like it?” 

I remained silent. . , . 

“Come to Weber’s tomorrow at seven I” 

The next day, trembling with foreboding, I went to Weber’s, Already, 
I felt I was Serge Pavlovitch’s slave, that I no longer moved by my own 
volition, that I was utterly in his hands to be molded to whatever shape 
he desired. The moment I entered, Diaghilev paid his bill, and we left 
in a taxi for chez Cabassus. There, at a table on the terrace, he ordered a 
sumptuous champagne supper to celebrate — as he said — the end of the 
br illian t season and my approaching visit to Italy: the new life that 
was about to open to me. And there^ far into the night, we went on 
sitting, while Diaghilev drew me out about my life in Soviet Russia, 
listening with the greatest attention and asking innumerable questions: 
questions which somehow made me see my life in a new light, and 
brought back to mind things I had seemingly forgotten forever. When I 
told him of all the anguish and torments I had had to suflFer, in the 
course of my two unsuccessful attempts to escape abroad in order to join 
him, tears ever and again stood in his eyes. In particular my tale of how 
I had gone into retreat, to study the dance, touched him deeply. 

Of my beautiful lady in ELiev, I told him also; how I was, as it were, 
enchanted, and of the abnormal repression which then weighed on my 
life — as it did now. . . , But when I came to this point, a sort of jealous 
watchfulness leaped out, and Serge Pavlovitch exclaimed abruptly, sharply, 
“All this is absurd nonsense, a dreamer’s fantasies and imaginings. It 
will soon pass, and leave not the least trace.” 

Later, I accompanied Diaghilev as far as his hotel, where he presented 
me with a parcel of books, my railway ticket to Turin and my passport 
already complete with visa. After which he embraced me with great 
kindness and bade me good-by. It had been arranged that I should 
leave for Italy on the 6th of July, and we decided no one should know 
I was about to begin studying imder Cecchetti. The company was merely 
to think that I, like everyone else, had just gone o£F for my holidays. 

The same day Serge Pavlovitch, happening to meet Nijinska, told her 
he was sending me to Italy to study with Cecchetti, whereupon, in a 
rage, she burst out, “You are absolutely wrong to do it. Nothing will 
ever come of Lifar; he not only will never be a premier danseur, he will 
never even be a soloist.” 

“You think so? But I think differently, and am utterly convinced that 
not only will he become a premier danseur, but a choreographer too.” 

“Never,” she replied, “I’U take my bet on it.” 

The stake was a dozen bottles of champagne, which, however, 
Diaghilev was never to see. 

July 6th, 1924. At six o’clock that morning I was to leave my little hotel. 
The day before, I had taken leave of Diaghilev, but had stayed up all 



IN THE CORPS DE BALLET 2/7 

night, restless because of the coming journey, and because it was neces- 
sary to pack. Suddenly, without the least warning, at five (absorbed in 
packing, I must have ignored his knock), my door opened, and in 
walked Serge Pavlovitch, his usual fresh, well-groomed self, carrying his 
heavy cane, and a black overcoat over one arm. So unexpected was his 
visit, and so taken aback was I by having to receive the scented, well- 
cared-for Serge Pavlovitch in my small attic room, strewn with papers and 
all sorts of rubbish, that I hardly knew how to welcome him. It irritated 
and shamed me to have to reveal the squalor of my life to him, and yet, 
too, I felt proud and elated. Here was Diaghilev himself, having sacrificed 

his night’s rest Then we had coffee very cosily together, and Serge 

Pavlovitch drove me to the station. 

We entered a carriage. “Now concentrate.” For a minute we were 
sUent, then Diaghilev got up, made the sign of the cross over me with 
quick, small gestures, embraced me, and gave me his blessing “for the 
coming work and all that is good,” and, lo, there was his white handker- 
chief, waving, waving, as the monotonous, huge, gray tedious houses 
began to glide past. 



CHAPTER n 


CREATION OF A DANCER 

ONCE IN Turin I immediately had myself driven to Cecchetti’s, but, 
finding him out, went on to the theater. I foimd him in the middle of a 
lesson, and at once recognized the small, snow-white, unimposing old 
man, famous far and wide as the last surviving relic of his tradition in 
Europe. I found him sitting in one corner of the stage, instructing a girl 
and two boys. Going up, I mentioned Diaghilev’s name, whereupon a 
happy smile of childlike joy ht up his features. However, he said nothing, 
but motioned me to wait for the end of the lesson. I waited, but now it 
was no happy and kind old man that I saw, but an angry, irascible 
maestro, who, whistling the melody, and emphasizing eadti beat with 
his stick, would suddenly jump from his seat and begin not only 
abusing, but striking his pupils. And the pupils . . . the pupils responded 
by tenderly, respectfully, kissing the hands that chastised. 

Next morning, at nine, I myself was attending my first lesson, a lesson 
which lasted three interminable, painful, exhausting hours, for Cecchetti 
had decided we should work three hours a day, one hour in private, and 
two in a class with the others, but since, with Nijinska, I had not been 
accustomed to such hours, at first I was Hterally dropping with fatigue. 
That lesson, from which I returned covered with bruises, remains in my 
memory as one of horrible torture. Cecchetti was horrified by the manner 
in which I held my arms. According to his tradition, the turned-outness 
which' the classical school demands of the feet must be maintained by 
the hands also. Gazing at my posture, he said: “You like young husband 
old Nijinska. You no good at all. You not taught right. Your hands 
been maimed,” ^ and began to hit those “maimed hands” with his stick. 

In Paris I had dreamed only of Italy and Cecchetti, but in Turin I 
found there was solely Cecchetti, and an incredible, tormenting boredom. 
There I lived, without friends or acquaintances, without speech, on a 
dusty, breathless plain, scorching hot under the July sun. Sometimes I 
took long, boring walks through the Turin streets, but generally I sat 
at home, or at Cecchetti’s. At home I should have had nothing to do 
but for a large parcel of books which Diaghilev had given me in Paris. 
Besides the works of Tchekhov and Aksakov, I found it contained much 
by contemporary Russian writers, Blok, Kuzmin, Ehrenburg, Remisov, 
Sologub, Biely, Yessenin, and even works on Pushkin, besides many others. 


^Cecchetti talked in a queer jargon of broken Russian, interspersed with words from 
other languages. 

378 



C3LEATION OF A DANCER ^79 

Never since, have I had either the time or opportunity to read so much 
Russian fiction, and I must always be gratejEul to Diaghilev for this 
present, since it made it possible for me to adorn my tedious, my de- 
jected, life in Turin, and acquaint myself with the landmarks of con- 
temporary literature. But I spent even more of my time with Cecchetti, 
talking to the infirm, unhappy old man. He was frequently ill through- 
out this summer, and often I would have to take him home from some 
lesson during which he had felt faint and put him to bed, though the 
very next day he would appear as usual, only, as often as not, to feel 
faint again. 

Scx>n, both Cecchetti and his wife became my great friends. They loved 
me as though I were a grandson, but Cecchetti loved me also as a pupil, 
of whom he had great, perhaps too great, hopes. Feeling how short a time 
still remained to him, and that with him his old classical traditions would 
depart, he was anxious to make me their repository and thus, through 
me, transmit all the experience he had so IzdDoriously accumulated. 
Cecchetti had not much general culture, and but litde interest in anything 
save the ballet and his small garden, yet, where dancing was concerned, 
his philosophy was complete. 

“Never forget,” he would often repeat to m^ “that in our divine art, 
to be ‘perseverance itself’ is a virtue, but if one is excessively fanatical 
about it, one runs the risk of becoming a maniac. Work always with 
love, with a will to succeed, but never ‘exaggeratedly* I” 

In work he would never permit his students “to go full out*’: for 
“a dancer,** he said, “must always have a reserve in hand” in order to yield 
himself wholly upon the stage. In this, he was one with Diaghilev, 

“Work as I teach, but dance as you can and want to dance,” was the 
old man’s perpetual advice. “Moods’* and “sentiments,” as expressed in 
dancing, were almost sacred to him, for the way the “soul expressed 
itself” on the stage, seemed to him something to be handled with great 
delicacy and tact. 

His dream was to die in the theater, and I was often to hear him say 
that, feeling his last moment near, he would take a taxi, hurry off to 
the theater, and hang himself there. That end seemed most desirable to 
him, because then with his last breath he would be breathing its air, and 
merge at length into the life and soul of that to which he had consecrated 
all his long life. Even then he was preparing to die, though his wife, 
with devoted care, managed to preserve his life some short while longer. 

“Listen, Serge, I’m getting very old” — ^he was seventy-four — ^“and, as 
you see, am desperately ill. I shall be dying soon, very soon. Our art is 
on the decline, and I haven’t the strength to raise it again. There is 
only one way it can be done, and that is by preserving the ‘annals of 
the dance.* But those annals are the professor, none other exists. Those 
I have been to you, up till now. 'Hiey are all open to you, you read in 
them as in a book, but when everything has been read your duty will be 



SERGE DIAGHIEEV 


280 

to make them available to others, so that our beloved art may not die. 
To you I am transmitting the efforts of a lifetime.” And, indeed, in 
Milan, two years later, he handed me, with my diploma, all the notes he 
had accumulated through many years, together with a collection of the 
music he considered most valuable for practicing dancing. 

About a week after my departure, Diaghilev*s first letter reached me 
from Venice. It touched and moved me by its solicitude for my well- 
being, and by the “little bit” of Diaghilev I detected below the surface. 
He wrote: 

“Only yesterday did I arrive in Venice, where I found your nice letter. 
It was a great pleasure to me to receive the good news you give in it. 
One thing, however, I do not like, and that is, where you say you are 
dissatisfied with the food. You must be well fed: that is a matter of prime 
importance, and you must not neglect it. Please let me know how you 
are getting on with your reading? Are you returning the books to Paris 
in order to get them exchanged, and are you getting the Russian papers? 
Three-hour lessons are certainly long, but one must take the bull by the 
horns, and, as you know, time is precious. I am hoping old Cecchetti will 
be able to come to Monte Carlo this winter, but meanwhile, get out of 
him everything you can. Have you yet written to your colleagues, and 
what are they writing to you? How did they take your flight to 
Cecchetti? As I*ve already said to you, write often: I want to hear all 
your news. 

“About myself, all I can say is that my departure from Paris was one 
long headlong rush in which I left numbers of things undone. Had I 
stayed a moment longer I should never have got away at all. Here in 
Venice, as ever, everything is divine. There is no place on earth like it 
for me, both for restfulness and because here I conceive all my ideas, 
which are afterwards shown to the world. 

“I shall be delighted to see you again, but that, for the moment, must 
rest with the future. Don’t forget to let me know how you are getting 
on with Cecchetti. With my blessings for every good fortune. 

“Yours, S. D.” 

Every letter that Diaghilev sent sought constantly to fire me in two 
directions: one, my work with Cecchetti, whom he was trying to per- 
suade, through me, to come to Monte Carlo; the other, my own instruc- 
tion, for that he considered indispensable to the formation of a real 
artist. Thus he wrote in one of his letters: 

“I am so glad you are reading so much, do go on, and even more 
actively if possible, for it will immensely improve my chances of win- 
ning my bet! I also spend all day reading, but only French fiction. They 
have such a number of remarkable authors, such as de Lacretelle, Kessel, 



CREATION OF A DANCER zSl 

Radiguct, Proust, etc. It is a pity that for the time being, you can’t 
tackle them, but you shall begin in Monte Carlo.” 

In the same letter I came on a sentence which made my heart beat 
faster with new hope. "By the end of this month I shall have to visit 
Milan with my agent, with regard to certain engagements, and then 
we shall certainly be able to meet. That should be in some 8 to lo days. 
I shall let you know the exact date later: meanwhile I shall expect to 
hear from you more often. My blessing for every good fortune. . . 

Finally, the day came, which, for the past three weeks, had been all 
my expectation. On July 26th, a short note arrived from Serge Pavlo- 
vitch, containing his typically clear and exact instructions: 

"Dear Seriozha, 

"I shall be reaching Milan on Tuesday, the 29/A. I leave here by 
the 9:25 arriving Milan 3:05 pai. Get yourself a second-class ticket, 
and leave Turin at 10:50 ajvI. You will arrive at Milan at 1:30 p.m., get 
your lunch at the station, wait for my train, and meet me. I am sending 
what is necessary for the ticket. Acknowledge immediately receipt of 
this letter. 

"I received your last. Many thinks and au revoir for the time being.” 

“Yours, S. D.” 

I hardly know how I got through these interminable three days. It 
seemed that the twenty-ninth would never come, and that there would 
be no journey to Milan. And when, on the twenty-eighth, a telegram 
arrived confirming the arrangements made by letter, I was positive, as 
I opened it, that Diaghilev must have put oS our meeting. 

Next day, following Diaghilev’s instructions, I reached Milan, and 
lunched at the railway station. Then at last there was his train, and 
out of a first-class compartment stepped a rejuvenated Diaghilev — for 
Italy always rejuvenated Serge Pavlovitch, made him look fresher and 
somehow lighter. Embracing me, he said he wanted to show me Milan, 
but^ as two days were all he could spare, time was valuable. Whereupon, 
we began walking to the enormous glass-covered Galleria, stopping to look 
at La Scala Theater, and the monument to Leonardo and his pupils. All 
the way, and in the Galleria, where we took coffee. Serge Pavlovitch 
questioned me in detail as to my life in Turin, my lessons and Cecchetti, 
but said no word in connection with himself. 

Then we went on into the square of the dazzling white Duomo, and 
entered the Cathedral. Nothing I could say would adequately express 
what I felt once I was inside — ^all I can say is that I was inore power- 
fully affected than by anything else that happened to me in this Italian 
epoch. The very fact of being with Diaghilev induced a state of prayer- 
ful tremor. In his presence I felt eternal longings, a yearning to seek 
the very sources of religion, the wdd-spring of the divine. It was as 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


2S2 

though we were both about to respond with a common accord, with 
the same impulse, and the same breath, in a communion which sanc- 
tions the eternal alliance o£ two lives. 

From the Cathedral we went on to Sta. Maria della Grazia to see 
Leonardo’s “Last Supper,” but on the way wandered o£E into various 
churches to see numbers of frescoes. The result was that we only arrived 
about six. I was tired and dragged along at Diaghilev’s heels, feeling 
that the mere fact of his presence made me blind to everything else. 
Serge Pavlovitch was in summer clothes: white trousers, ending at the 
ankle, tight in the leg and shortened by frequent washings, white shoes 
and an ordinary straw hat, which he was constantly removing to wipe 
the perspiration from his brow. There was the inevitable tuberose in 
the buttonhole of his usual dark jacket, and he was wearing, too, his 
usual stiff white collar, for he never wore one that was soft. Helping 
himselE along with his cane, not merely swinging it about, he puffed, 
sniffed, and kept easing his neck, as if trying to rid himself of his 
dreadful, tormenting horse-collar, and, nevertheless, marched on. I was 
fearfully tired with the heat and the emotions I had already experienced, 
and so had but litde energy to spare for other churches, or all the things 
Diaghilev explained. Nevertheless, even under these conditions, Luini’s 
frescoes in San Maurizio, and especially St. Catherine’s torments, could 
hardly fail to move me deeply. And indeed, his were the first paintings 
to touch me at all in Milan. 

But when, eventually, we reached. Sta. Maria della Grazia, after what 
seemed our endless journey, I suddenly seemed to find myself in the 
very atmosphere of Leonardo’s time. All my weariness vanished. There 
in front of us was the “Cenacolo,” and peacefully, reverendy, we gazed at 
it together. 

Speaking generally, I observed that Diaghilev’s presence either gal- 
vanized me, and in some wonderful way raised me to a higher level 
which sensitized my perceptions, and so enabled me to penetrate into 
the Holy of Holies of whatever we might be contemplating; or, on the 
contrary, paralyzed me, and made it impossible for me to perceive any- 
thing whatever. There were times when Diaghilev’s long explanations 
would convey absolutely nothing; and yet, two or three words, a hint 
only, or silence, particularly his silences, would make me take in some 
work of art joyfully and deeply. Now we sat down in front of the “Last 
Supper.” At first it left me umnoved. And yet, the longer I gazed and 
strove to visualize it as it must have looked when newly painted, the 
more deeply did it begin to affect me. Possibly Diaghilev’s own feelings 
and thoughts may in some way have been communicated to me, possibly 
there were regions in myself which I had never suspected, possibly the 
great genius himself was speaking to my soul: however that may be, 
the longer I gazed the less able was I to tear myself away, until at last 
I entered into a condition of utter calm and delight. 



CREATION OF A DANCER 283 

Thus our first day in hlilan came to an end. Next day we rose early, 
and Diaghilev led me to the enormous and very lovely Scala Theater, a 
theater “in which you, and I hope soon, will be dancing.” After which 
we went to the famous Brera Gallery. Here Diaghilev “showed” me the 
masters he loved, “showing” them with hardly a glance. He himself 
already knew them by heart, and so they could give him but little that 
was new. Besides, he was clearly nervous of the way I should respond. 
Would I like them enough, feel and value them enough? But naturally, 
my knowledge of painting was somewhat limited, and I must have 
disappointed so exceptional a judge. 

We began with some frescoes by Luini, whose work I had so much 
admired the previous day. Refreshed by a night’s rest, I gazed at each 
picture with the greatest attention, though somewhat superficially I must 
say, seeing that Diaghilev was hurrying me on all the time. Apart, how- 
ever, from Luini’s “Madonna with Saints,” nothing in the first four 
rooms much impressed me. In the fifth room what impressed me most 
deeply was a head of Christ ascribed to Leonardo, and even more a 
terrifying “Crucifixion” by Mantegna. I had noticed it the moment we 
entered the room and, dumfounded, cried: 

“Serge Pavlovitch, what is that over there? Surely it isn’t an old 
Italian painting?” 

“Of course! Why, what’s troubling you?” 

“But it seems such present-day realism. Christ is dead, so dead he can- 
not possibly ever rise again. Can Mantegna possibly have been an 
atheist?” 

“When you have seen more of his religious paintings, you will under- 
stand that he was not an atheist, but a man deeply, strongly devout, 
though an individual, if ever there was one. It is certainly very different 
from the saintly, naive, prayerful and purely religious cerulean painting 
of Angelico.” 

Again I stood amazed in front of Luini’s “Women Bathing,” 

“Is it possible that this, too, is sixteenth-century Italian? Why it’s a 
Picasso, a genuine Picasso!” 

“Yes, if you like it’s a Picasso of the sixteenth century, if in Picasso 
you see a manifestation of art violating and destroying accepted canons. 
In that sense, the Italian art of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries had 
much in common with Picasso.” 

Of the rest of the Brera I have but litde recollection. After a pro- 
longed lunch at the Galleria, Diaghilev led me to the Ambrosiana. But 
my mind was still full of my impressions of the Brera, my head and 
my feet felt fatigued, and aU I remember of what we saw is the “Codex 
Atlanticus,” a collection of drawings and. manuscripts by Leonardo da 
Vinci. 

Sadly, I left that evening for what to me was an empty, tiresome, mori- 
bund Turin. In the interval I had profited much: I had been with 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


2.84 

Diaghiley, visited Milan, Lombardy, seen the works o£ Leonardo, Luini, 
Mantegna, and yet I could not help feeling sad and discontented. Some- 
how I had expected more from Serge Pavlovitch and Milan and, above 
all, from myself. It seemed to me, I had not been able to assimilate or 
understand enough of what had been offered me, that perhaps Diaghilev 
would be disappointed in me, too. Back in my solitude again, and feeling 
my dissatisfaction even more keenly, I wrote him a somewhat dis- 
jointed, unsatisfactory letter about it all, and a few days later came his 
reply. I quote it here, not so much because it relieved my mood, and 
drove away every doubt, but because it is typical of Diaghilev’s views 
on the education of an artist: 

“My dear Seriozha, I am not too pleased with your letter. There’s a 
sort of unnecessary melancholy about it, a feeling of things left unsaid. 
These were not at all the sort of impressions I wanted from you. . . . 
My own, on the contrary, are cheerful and brave. To me, it seems, that 
for you to gain acquaintance in this manner with all that is best in this 
world, is not only useful but indispensable, if you aspire to become a 
real artist, I would very much like to show you France in the same 
way. That was how Massine’s entire activity began, there it was he 
realized at last all those essential and imponderable things that made 
him a creative artist (though, unfortunately, but for a short while). I 
expect there will be a possibility between August 15th and 20th. I shall 
write about it again, . . 

About August loth Diaghilev sent me a parcel of books, the contents 
of which disturbed me no litde, and the following day a letter from 
Monte Carlo, in which he urged me yet again to go on persevering 
with my artistic education. “Coming from Venice, I stopped in Florence 
for three days, and once more was able to convince myself that no artist 
can lay claim to any culture unless he be intimately acquainted with this 
holy site of art. It is indeed God’s dwelling, and if, perchance, Florence 
should ever perish in an earthquake, the real art of the world would 
perish with it. For me each of my visits to Florence is like a pilgrimage 
to some holy shrine. I have seized the opportunity to send you a small 
present, ten booklets containing the work of ten of the greatest masters, 
those of the holy Raphael, portraits and other important works, Botti- 
celli, Mantegna (you remember his Christ.?), Piero della Francesca, Dona- 
tello, Filippa Lippi, Francia, Masaccio, Michelangelo, and our Milanese 
Luini. And I consider it your duty to memorize all these reproductions 
so that you will comprehend the differences between each of these mas- 
ters, and learn to know them by heart. That would make a good prep- 
aration for a possible excursion; very necessary if you are not to lose 
your bearings. Take the books with you, if you do go to Florence. Please 
acknowledge their receipt, and also the dancing slippers. I am very 
pleased that you spend so much time with the Maestro, and help him 
with his litde garden; that is all very good.” 



CREATION OF A DANCER 285 

I£ Diaghilev had only known how much his present tormented me! 
As I looked into the ten booklets I felt at first utterly lost, hardly knew 
where to begin, or what was meant by “comprehend the different^ be- 
tween each of these masters, and learn to know them by heart.” True, 
I made an eifort to read the introductions to each of them, but, my 
Italian proving inadequate, and the reproductions being monochrome, 
I made little headway. What on earth was I to reply to Diaghilev that 
would not give me away? ...Meanwhile, though busy in Monte Carlo 
with preparations for the new season, his constant search for new talent, 
and recent discovery of Dukelsky, Diaghilev nevertheless found time 
to enquire in each of his letters whether I had received the books from 
Florence, whether I liked and was interested in them, and to ask me to 
write “sensibly about them, and in full detail.” 

Having with difficulty reached some conclusion about the booklets 
and their contents, I wrote a lengthy missive to Diaghilev setting out 
my impressions, and then, in some apprehension sat down to await his 
reply, certain my stupidity and ignorance would be most severely repri- 
manded. However, no answer came from Diaghilev, and it was only 
later, when we met, that he told me I had seized many of the essentials, 
and that certain personal observations, jotted down casually and, as it 
were, unthinkingly, had pleased him greatly and convinced him that I 
possessed an unusual degree of artistic sensitivity and showed great 
promise as a true artist. 

Thus, I was awaiting a reply from Diaghilev, though to my growing 
astonishment nothing came, when, on August i8th, late at night, a tele- 
gram arrived containing a totally unexpected message; **Vous at envoyi 
500 liquidez tout ^ Turin sayez mercredi soir Milano hdtel Cavour avec 
toutes VOS bagages” Clearly this decision must have been sudden enough 
for Diaghilev, for that very day he had sent me a short note by express 
from his Monte Carlo Bank, which seemed to foreshadow no such sud- 
den departure: “Sending check. Shcdl write today or tomorrow. Received 
today all your four letters together. Thanks and handshake. — S. D.” 

**LJquider touf' in Turin, in a day, ofEered no difficulties, since I had 
nothing to leave save Cecchetti, Our parting was touching and tender, 
and he promised that that winter he would join me and the Ballet in 
Monte Carlo. By the twentieth I was in Milan, where Diaghilev met me, 
and we went on immediately to Venice. Here we arrived late at night, 
and, as we were leaving the station. Serge Pavlovitch asked: 

“How would you like us to go to the center? By cab, or in a gondola?” 

I implored him, above all things, to take a gondola, at which he began 
to laugh merrily, quite in his Italian manner, though I failed to see 
why. . , . 

Thus we floated along through the town of vast silences: magnificent 
Venice of annunciation and nighty with its deep dark sky reflected in 
softly gleaming water: and from that moment I became forever its slave. 



2,86 SERGE DIAGHELEV 

Everything took on a totally dijfferent aspect. And Serge Pavlovitch 
changed too. As he was now I had never known him, yet thus he was 
always to be in Venice, as though a veritable doge, who proudly, joyfully, 
parades his native, miraculous city. Five days we spent there, five perfect 
epoch-making days, with Diaghilev all smiles and in a perpetual good 
humor as he nodded to right and to left, with a giorno for all, since 
all seemed to know him. Or else we sat in the square of St. Mark, the 
most joyful square in the world, as though he were verily at home. 
As I looked at him, I too would be infected by his smile, his joy. An 
oppressive weight seemed to have been lifted, and now, at last, I felt 
I had found in him that for which I had so long sought; a trustworthy, 
firm and faithful support. 

Next day we spent seeing the life of the city. That day Diaghilev made 
no attempt to show me the museums or galleries, but tried to make 
me enter the very spirit of the town, though already I felt it was part 
of me, by recounting tragic tales from its history, by walking me through 
the city, and by an excursion in a gondola along the Grand Canal. Later 
that day I took a swim at the Lido, though alone, for Serge Pavlovitch 
never bathed, since for nothing in the world would he ever have appeared 
naked. But always we somehow found ourselves back in the Square, 
though, superstitious as he was, Diaghilev, having once mistaken a sign, 
never himself crossed, and never allowed me to cross, between the two 
flagstafis. 

That evening we listened to The Barber of Seville in the Venice 
Theater, and after the performance had supper with Yessenin and Isa- 
dora Duncan. 

The third day Diaghilev began to parade Venetian art in front of me, 
and with such thoroughness that, however often I might find myself in 
later years in Venice, there was never anything to add to my knowledge 
of, or feeling for it. The remaining days were just suiBScient, with not an 
instant wasted, and ample time for everything of any importance: the 
Doge’s Palace, the Academy of Art, aU the churches, and all the falazzi 
to which we could gain admittance. 

From Venice we went on to the calmness, the intimacy of small Padua 
of the arcaded, narrow streets — a journey I shall always keep in thankful 
and reverent rememberance, as one of the chief events in my outer, and 
inner, life. Here in Padua, my rebirth in beauty and art was finally ac- 
complished: here in St. Anthony’s town my eternal pact with Diaghilev 
was concluded. There I drank from the very sources of Italian art, of aU. 
Italy itself, from the fathomless deeps, the eternal truth of the great 
Giotto. What had been only a hint in Milan Cathedral, here, in front 
of Giotto’s frescoes, seemed welded together in one harmonious whole. 
By the side of the nineteen-yearold boy-youth, untutored and totally inex- 
perienced, now stood the wise, the omnipotent Diaghilev, and by some 



CREATION OF A DANCER 2,87 

inexplicable, incomprehensible miracle was seeing Giotto with the same 
eyes, with an identical feeling of the soul winging heavenwards towards 
the beautiful and eternal: towards God and loveliness. Liberated, I 
seemed dissolving, my whole being merging into his, one single breath 
pulsated in us both, and we were one more closely than in any earthly 
union. 

Serge Pavlovitch was no less moved than I. In some way there was 
a kind of prayerful luminosity about him, that is the only way I can 
put it. 

Diaghilev was not, in the accepted sense of the word, a particxilarly 
religious man and his faith was, perhaps, not strong, but he adored 
occasions of pomp, church ceremonial, and the ritual of religion, such as 
the lamp burning before the icons in his room. These he valued gready. 
Yet too, he knew moments when the soul prays to some unknown god. 
In him the practice of religion was intimately bound up with a leaning 
towards superstition; the latter playing a great part in his life. Thus, he 
particularly adored St. Anthony of Padua, and always carried a medallion 
bearing his image in his waistcoat pocket. 

After praying at the tomb of the Saint, Serge Pavlovitch embraced 
me, and told me he believed in me, and would take upon himself to care 
for me and help me through life. From that moment dated my entire 
concentration on dancing and Serge Pavlovitch: from then on, no matter 
what I might be doing, he was ever present in my thoughts. Even when 
dancing, my thoughts were still of him, as I strove for utter perfection 
to make myself worthy of his friendship and justify his faith. Avidly I 
read, or sat for hours in Italian galleries studying paintings, frequented 
concerts, and was rewarded by unimaginable raptures, in which the 
soul soared into regions I had never imagined could exist. But even more 
intent was I on my spiritual improvement. Then, more fully myself, I 
should be able, spiritually and emotionally, to approach, to understand, 
to think and feel as deeply as he, Diaghilev, Serge Pavlovitch, Seriozha, 
my namesake. . . . 

Another talk in Padua moved me still more deeply, and raised me on 
the fluttering wings of hope: 

“I have not the slightest doubt left now that, not only shall I win my 
bet against Nijinska, but I am certain I have won it already. I know 
absolutely that some day soon, you will be ballet master in the Russian 
Ballet, and now I am anxious to see your creative activity functioning 
as soon as possible, so that I may be proud of you, and myself, and share 
your happiness 

These words not only moved me to new hope and expectation, but, as 
by some magic power, they communicated a new impulse to my inner- 
most being, a new conflagration of the creative urge, which from that 
day has never left me. 

From Padua we went to Milan, and there took leave of each other. 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


288 

Diaghiiev went on to Monte Carlo, I to Paris, where on the ist of 
September the whole company was due to reassemble. 

On August 31st Serge Pavlovitch arrived from Monte Carlo with 
Dolin and Kokhno, and immediately I felt that a wall had risen between 
us, a wall that was to keep us apart for months. I could not meet him 
informally, found no opportunity of talking to him, and once more 
was doomed to my solitude, but now how infinitely more difficult to 
endure. 

That day, as prearranged, the whole company assembled and were 
much astonished to see how I had changed, for they now saw a civil, 
elegant young man, where before they had known an uncouth, rude 
and somewhat boorish youth. The day after, Nijinska gave her first 
lesson, which turned into a wonderful personal triumph for me, the more 
impressive since few in the company suspected I had been working 
under Cecchctti, or had been Hving in Italy. Once I had changed, and 
was standing by the practice bar, I suddenly felt I was breathing just as 
I ought to breathe, and could hear the song of my body. That moment 
I knew myself as through and through a dancer, that I was surpas- 
sing myself, that I was a changed man. And that the whole company 
realized too. Immediately, I took the lead of the class, and all admitted 
it as my due. Yet there was no one more impressed by this transforma- 
tion in my dancing than Diaghiiev himself: from that moment he began 
to consider me his jfirst dancer. 

On September 9th, Serge Pavlovitch gave me a part in Cimarosianaj 
and next day another in Flore et Zephyre . . . Everybody took my rise in 
Diaghilev’s esteem with the utmost good nature, and not only made no 
effort to "shoulder me out,” but, on the contrary, and as it were casually, 
disappeared the moment Serge Pavlovitch arrived, in order to leave 
us alone 

On the 14th, the whole company left for Munich, though without 
Diaghiiev, who did not join us until the 21st. Although we spent just 
a fortnight in this city, and left on the 30th, our performances proved 
very successful, a success which was generally repeated throughout Ger- 
many. I danced with enthusiasm, and seemed but to live for dancing 
and visiting the museums. Diaghiiev I could meet but seldom, and so 
was forced to content myself with admiring him from a distance, an 
admiration mingled with pride in the man I imagined the one colossus 
of the twentieth century, and with tender thankfulness I would remem- 
ber Italy and how close our relations had been. In church, while pray- 
ing for my relatives left behind in Russia, I would always add his name 
to my prayers, would put his name down on the list "for prayers to 
be said for his health,” and have prosfiras^ consecrated for him. 

In Munich I would often visit the old Pinakothek and Gliptakothek, 
to look at the primitive Apollos and my dear Italians. But the Memling’s, 

^ A cer^in bread used in the Orthodox Church for t’bia purpose. (Ed.) 



CREATION OF A DANCER ^§9 

Diirer’s and Cranach’s seemed strange to me^ and one day, at a chance 
meeting, I said to Diaghilev: 

“Serge Pavlovitch, who is this Cranash?” (pronouncing it as though 
it were French, since I knew no German). 

Whereupon Diaghilev began laughing, but then gave me a long, inter- 
esting and most substantial lecture on early German fwiinting, and himself 
accompanied me to the Pinakothek to “show me” Cranach and Durer. 

My last joy in Munich came just before our departure, when he gave 
me the shopwalker’s part in Les Femmes de Bonne Hutneur. Then on 
October ist, and and 3rd we appeared in Leipzig, on the 4th, 5th and 6th 
in Chemnitz, and afterwards left for Berlin, which we reached on the 
9th, having visited sundry small towns on the way. Here we stayed 
until the 27th. 

On the 26th, we gave our last performance in Berlin and left for a 
grand tour through Germany, spending a week (October 27th. to No- 
vember 3rd) in Breslau, five days (November 4th to 9th) in Hamburg, 
and three days each in Mainz and Cologne. We had a certain amount 
of artistic success, but it was by no means the triumph to which we 
were accustomed, and the financial return was far from encouraging. 
I, myself, was not dancing, owing to an indisposition. 

From Cologne the whole company left for Hannover and thence via 
Ostcnd for London, while I with Kokhno and Diaghilev journeyed via 
Paris. About this time the dancers Balanchevadze, Yefimov, Danilova and 
Gevergeyeva, who had fled from Soviet Russia, happened to be in 
Paris, whereupon Diaghilev, hearing of their plight, asked them to 
come and see him, and received them with the utmost kindness. Much 
moved, the runaway dancers asked him to give them an audition, and 
were granted one that same evening. When they arrived we took them 
to Mme. Sert’s, where they danced items from their repertoire, much to 
all our delight. Diaghilev then and there engaged them in his corps de 
ballet, and soon after Balanchevadze, as Balanchine, was promoted ballet 
master to Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet. 

But now our great London season was approaching. The opening date 
was November 24th, and we had contracted to dance at the London 
Coliseum, twice a day, for seven weeks. So it was necessary to hurry. 

One episode of my life in London remains' particularly in my mind: 
namely, my first experiments in choreography. The arrangement was that 
Flore et Ziphyre should be produced by Nijinska but, having for some 
reason taken oflEense because Diaghilev had entrusted me with the part 
of Boreas, ^e left the company. I vividly recall how astonished, how 
shaken I jFas, when Diaghilev, in the presence of all, turning to me, 
said I was to be responsible for the choreography of this ballet, for I 
knew well the importance attached by Diaghilev to the new ballet, in 
whidti Dolin and Nikitina were to appear; knew too how much he 
admired the music of the yoimg Dukelsky whom he had recently dis- 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


2^0 

covered. All this only made his decision the more overwhelming. If he 
gives me Flore et Zephyre it must mean . . . and my head swam with 
happiness and hope. . . . 

Thus I became ballet master to Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet, but nol^ 
however, for long. 

Enthusiastically, and with immense though spasmodic zeal, I took 
on the task of producing the new ballet. New steps and postures thronged 
through my mind and at times so tumultuously as completely to banish 
sleep. One of my ideas at this time was so to build up the part of Flore 
(Nikitina) that not even for a moment, in the whole course of the ballet, 
would the ballerina’s feet touch ground, sustained, as I meant her to 
be, on the men’s arms. Having thoroughly gone into the details with 
A. J. Trusevitch (then quasi-secretary to the Ballet) who had been at- 
tached to me for special duty, I began work in Astafieva’s studio, after 
which followed two trial rehearsals with Savina® as Flore, Turau as 
Zephyre, and the brothers Khosrami. Thanks to the strenuous efforts I 
had made, and Diaghilev’s tender, attentive support, good progress was 
registered. Nevertheless, in the early days of the New Year, 1925, I 
began more and more to feel irresolute and somewhat doubtful of the 
whole thing — ^not, indeed, because I had lost interest in the creative 
possibilities of choreographic art, but as it seemed, because I feared that, 
by wholly devoting myself to a new art, I should fall behind as a dancer, 
just when I was beginning to succeed. Strongly influenced by this mo- 
tive, I did my best to persuade Serge Pavlovitch to be reconciled with 
Massine, in order that the latter might return as choreographer to the 
Ballet. 

A period of long and painful indecision followed, but finally Diaghilev’s 
love for his Ballet prevailing, he yielded, and Massine began to work on 
Flore et Zephyre^ whereupon an arrangement was made by which Mas- 
sine was to join us in Monte Carlo for a fortnight at the end of March, 
in order to put the finishing touches to this ballet. Meanwhile, the rest 
of the company had reached Monte Carlo on January nth, where between 
January 17th and February ist we gave a number of performances. 

Our first performance, that of January 17th, was a gala night, attended 
by the Prince and Princess of Monaco, the Duke of Connaught and 
many celebrities. Nevertheless, it almost provoked a tremendous scandal. 
That very morning certain members of the corps de ballet had circulated 
a round robin demanding an increase in pay. For some unknown reason 
I and some four or five others were not approached. But the leading 
dancers, including Mile. ShoUar and Vilzak, sympathized warmly, and 
Vilzak even undertook to act as go-between, by way of Grigoriev, our 
producer. Diaghilev, however, through Grigoriev, categorically refused 
to grant any increase, whereupon the whole cast resolved to go on strike 

® An Enj^lishwoman, formerly Massine’s wife. 



CREATION OF A DANCER 29 1 

at the gala performance. That evening I went to the theater as usual, 
where I was joined by a few of the dancers. Diaghilev was excessively 
nervous, for the audience was beginning to pour in, while at the back 
of the stage^ only five dancers were present. Pallid, and with his nervous 
twitch particularly marked. Serge Pavlovitch went up to the Royal box 
and approaching the Princess of Monaco, informed her that neither 
L^s Tentations dc la Bcrghre nor Cimarosiana could be given, and that 
it would be necessary to substitute individual numbers. Finally, the 
curtain went up, long after time, and we began to dance our separate 
numbers. 

Meanwhile more dancers had arrived, though Shollar and Vilzak still 
continued absent, for having decided to stand by the corps de ballet, 
they had quietly remained away, totally unaware of what was hap- 
pening. . . . 

It was Kokhanovsky who saved Diaghilev and the performance, an act 
for which Serge Diaghilev remained ever grateful, for, in a speech to the 
cast, he implored them to remember they would be ruining not only a vast 
enterprise but Diaghilev and themselves. By degrees the dancers were 
won over, and eventually threw themselves enthusiastically into their 
parts. Not till next day did Shollar and Vilzak, dismissed from the Ballet, 
discover how they had been deserted by the rest of the company; what 
must have made it still more painful, was the fact that neither had had 
the slightest personal interest in the strike, nor had desired any increase 
in pay. 

Soon after, Cecchetti arrived, and we had a touching reunion. Some- 
times I would appear with both him and his wife on the stage. 

But now Massine arrived to give the last all-important touches to Flore 
et Zephyre, The work was by no means easy, for though Dukelsky*s 
music proved very refreshing, its rhythmic design was somewhat dif- 
ficult, and but little helped by the manner of its scoring. 

As we worked, however, something strange seemed happening inside 
me. Actually, I was not creating my part, for it seemed to be creating 
itself. Though I studied its every aspect with the most intense applica- 
tion, attaching due weight to every direction, every indication, assimilating 
and elaborating them all, outwardly there appeared no sign of the inner 
development of what I was doing. I retired into myself, and in imagina- 
tion danced a great deal, though following my own bent. Yet at rehear- 
sals I was languidly mechanical, and indeed to such an extent that the 
rest of the cast began to feel deeply concerned and wonder whether I 
would not prejudice the success of the whole ballet. 

Massine, who left before our first performance, and Serge Pavlovitch, 
both adopted an attitude of commiseration, for both had been expecting 
something original, and both were exceedingly disappointed, for what 
they saw was the dullest mediocrity. 

But at the dress rehearsal, something like a miracle came to pass, for 



Z^Z SERGE DIAGHILEV 

I went soaring over the stage in such a way that the whole cast stood 
as though dumb and enchanted. All dancing ceased as every one watched 
me, and when it was over I heard a burst o£ thunderous applause. Where- 
upon Serge Pavlovitch, delighted and profoundly moved, came through 
the wings and, with a face transformed with joy, hardly able to control 
his rapture, cried: 

“Scriozha, my dear, how you danced, how you flew! How you amazed 
me! You have filled me with joy! I was pinching myself. I could hardly 
believe I was not dreaming that I was watching a miracle, an extraor- 
dinary . . . but I can’t find the word to describe it. . . . Even now I can’t 
be positively certain I actually saw it all, that the dream, the enchant- 
ment won’t pass, that I’ll have to come back to earth. If it really and 
truly isn’t enchantment, then you’re the greatest dancer I’ve ever seen! 
But iE it only turns out to be enchantment, if I’ve imagined it all? ... I 
must see you do it again to make quite sure, once and for all. Let the 
whole ballet be gone through again, from the very beginning!” 

They obey, and once again the “miracle” happens. I soar, I soar. Boreas 
has flown from the north, over the ocean, and then, following my own 
variation, I gather myself for my last high, long leap into the wings . . , 
I thrust ofl from the stage, I fling forward my body . . . behind are the 
nymphs, with Danilova, pirouetting and gazing up as I fly through the 
air . . . and then I fall heavily, dislocating both ankles. The whole stage 
freezes in the immobility of terror. I try to jump up, but my feet fail, 
and I drop like a stone. Then I am hurriedly picked up and carried 
to my hotel. 

Serge Pavlovitch, in mortal terror, spent a sleepless night at my bed- 
side, while my ankles were being set. Next day, however, in some em- 
barrassment, he appeared and said: “Seriozha, I must ask you to let me 
transfer your part to Slavinsky. My contract forces me to produce a new 
work in Monte Carlo this season, and the season is drawing to its end, 
and you are in no state for dancing. I know that the fault is mine entirely : 
why did I insist on repeating the rehearsal? But if you insist on dancing, 
I shall have to cancel Flore et Zephyre and so shall violate my contract. 
Still, I do beg you most earnestly not to let me down, and to agree to 
allow, temporarily, only temporarily, Slavinsky to deputize for you. But 
the Boreas Paris will see, I assure you, shall be you!” 

“No, Serge Pavlovitch, I cannot give up my part to anybody. Make 
Flore et Zephire our last performance: I shall either dance in Ziphire or 
throw myself from the rock of Monaco, but I will never allow another 
to do my Boreas.” 

Diaghilev realized then that my decision was unalterable, and post- 
poned Flore et Zephyre to our last performance, a week thence. Days 
passed, and doctor after doctor averred that fully six weeks must elapse 
before I could dream of dancing. Diaghilev was in terror, and Pavel 
Georgievitch refused to leave me for a single moment. Utterly deter- 



CREATION OF A DANCER 293 

mined to dance, whatever else might happen, I took my own cure in 
hand. For a whole week, one o£ my feet being in splints, I made myself 
fomentations of boiling hot water, immediately followed by icy cold, 
and combined both treatments with continuous massage. In three days 
the swelling began to go down, but being unable to move my feet, I 
went on practicing with my hands. Then, at last, the fateful day, April 
28th, arrived, and with my right foot tight in a rubber sock, I was borne 
to a cab and driven to the theater- When Diaghilev came into my dressing 
room he could hardly believe I intended to dance, and was obviously in 
a state of great anxiety, both on account of my mad decision and the 
ultimate fate of the whole performance. 

The curtain went up, and again I danced exactly as I had danced 
at the dress rehearsal. Nobody in the audience had the least idea of the 
state of my feet, nothing at all was noticed. Very few of the artists even 
knew that, during the performance, one ankle was dislocated three times, 
and on each occasion had to be reset. Nevertheless, this ballet was the 
first of my triumphs. After the show. Serge Pavlovitch wrote the follow- 
ing inscription for me on a program: “To dear Boreas, the young and 
irresistible wind, on the day when he first swept through Monte Carlo.” 
All the same, my triumph cost me dear, for my "cure” laid me low soon 
after our arrival in Barcelona, to which we had gone on leaving Monte 
Carlo. A sore throat, with a rapidly rising temperature, began to make 
it impossible for me to breathe. In mortal fear, EHaghilev had me seen 
by the best specialists, who diagnosed septic tonsils. For a week I hovered 
between life and death. My memory preserves an image of Serge Pavlo- 
vitch in tears by my bed, and, somewhere near, the plaintive whining of 
Kokhno’s little dog. Meanwhile Diaghilev was constantly veering from 
hope to despair: one moment thinking my time had come, the next 
detecting some gleam of improvement, at which he would begin to build 
wonderful prospects for my future. To those around him he would say: 
“He’ll either die, or live to fulfil all his promise. . . .” 

My recovery was, as it were, quite accidental. I made a sudden move- 
ment, was violently sick, and the moment after was well again. It seemed 
I was not sufEering from tonsilitis at all, but from an abscess in the 
throat, due in the first place to the extremes of heat and cold to which 
my feet had been subjected. Serge Pavlovitch was overjoyed at my re- 
covery, and, weak and thin as I was, I found his attentions and kindness 
infinitely touching. 

Altogether we remained in Barcelona for a fortnight, during which I 
remained in bed, did no dancing and saw nothing. On May 15th we 
started for London by way of Paris, where on the i8th we were due to 
open our important season at the Coliseum, scheduled to last two months. 

I was now saddled with an immense amount of work. Vilzak having 
been discharged, all his parts fell to my province (among others those 
in L^s Fdcheux and Les Biches ) ; but what made them particularly oner- 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


2-94 

ous was my excessive weakness. However, in time, I not only overcame 
these dif&culties, but enjoyed great success both in London and Paris. 

On June 17th we gave our first performance of Les Matelots in Paris, 
a performance especially memorable to me. For this ballet, invented by 
Kokhno, with music by Auric, Serge Pavlovitch had again invited Mas- 
sine to arrange the choreography, and allotted the parts of the sailors to 
his very best dancers, namely, Woizikowsky, Slavinsky and myself, mine 
being the most lyrical of the parts. In London, Diaghilev would often 
ask me to lunch at some restaurant and, on one of these days, happening 
to be kept rather late, rehearsing, I heard Serge Pavlovitch, as I drew 
near the restaurant, shouting angrily and excitedly to Kokhno: 

“I gave those parts to Woizikowsky, Slavinsky and Seriozha, and I will 
not alter my decision in your favor. As I have said, so shall it be. You 
are the author of this ballet, but I am the director of the Russian Ballet, 
and I know what I want, and what orders I have given.” At which 
Kokhno left, whereupon, becoming aware of my presence, Diaghilev, 
completely transformed, turned kindly and tenderly to me, saying: 

“I say, you must be hungry, Seriozha! Sit down and eat! Not tired, 
are you?” 

All through lunch, with friendly solicitude, he tried to persuade me to 
throw oflE my feeling of weakness, to make an effort to begin dancing 
again; for, with the possibility of DoHn resigning, he felt it necessary to 
convince me that the whole future of the Russian Ballet rested with 
me, and that I must prove worthy of the great future in store. 

Dolin’s contract was due to expire on July ist, and it was common 
knowledge to us aU, including Dolin, that the contract would not be 
renewed. I was as well aware of the fact as anybody, for Diaghilev had 
already told me of it in Padua. Then, on June ist, part of the company 
left to fulfil a week’s engagement in Paris. 

Meanwhile Diaghilev was insisting that Dolin must observe the full 
letter of his contract, much to the latter’s annoyance, and so he accom- 
panied us. On board the steamer, however, Dolin, happening to buy 
some French newspapers, saw that although the forthcoming season in 
Paris featured my name, there was no mention of his at aU. 

“I shall not go to Paris!” was his immediate reaction. 

Nevertheless, Woizikowsky and Sokolova were able, though with great 
difficulty, to persuade him to continue, bow to the inevitable, and con- 
scientiously fulfil his contract. My own dilemma was a painful one. On 
the one hand it grieved me deeply that, though involuntarily, I was the 
cause of the situation, yet, on the other hand, and that seemed most 
important of all, I felt frightened. An invincible dread of the future 
took possession of me: dread of the responsibilities with which I was 
being burdened, in having the Ballet’s fortunes thus linked so closely with 
my own. Then and there I decided, that the moment the train ran into 
the Gare du Nord, I should desert and seek the unknown. 



CREATJON OF A DAISTCER Z^S 

But when the train pulled in, there on the platform were Pavel 
Georgievitch and Kokhno, who had arrived the day before with Diaghi-* 
lev, and who at once took me off to the Grand Hotel where Diaghilev 
wanted to see me. There, I implored him to release me from the respon- 
sibility he was thrusting upon me, reiterating that, come what might, I 
should never be able to see the engagement through, that I would be 
bound to break down, and thus have to abandon the company. 

“Nonsense that’s all pure foolishness I It’s far too late to think of that 
now. This whole engagement rests on you, and yours is the sole respon- 
sibility, both as regards myself and Paris.” 

On Jime 15th we opened at the Gaiete Lyrique with three ballets, 
Pulcinella, Flore et Zephyre and JLa Boutiqtie Fantasque^ with myself 
dancing in the two last. One of our best dancers, Slavinsky, had been 
allotted a part in Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, but for some reason, being 
unable to appear, Diaghilev intended to substitute Dolin. He did not, 
however, make the request himself, but through the intermediary of a 
friend, the impresario Wolheim. Dolin began by refusing indignantly, 
but eventually agreed to help his comrade. The ballet over, Dolin came 
into my dressing room, and with delicate, tender fingers, in a way I 
found comradely and touching, and which lingers in my memory as a 
most beautiful gesture, adjusted the wreath I was wearing as Boreas. 

On this occasion Paris took me to her bosom, as it did Nikitina, a 
dancer all grace, and the very soul of the music. Our third night, that 
of the seventeenth, was the premiere of Les Matelots. It was a jolly ballet, 
with a sort of saucy tunefulness about the music, and the Press and 
public liked it immensely. And indeed, this ballet had many of the 
qualities of success, as, for instance, the bravura of the variations, which 
incited the dancers to vie with each other, its uncommon freshness and 
youth, and, I would say, a sort of choreographic ingenuousness, as though 
the dancing were solely for dancing’s sake, and for the delightful interest 
in it. 

Kach variation had its own individuality to suit the temperaments of 
each of the three sailors. Mine was the most lyrical, the most lilting, part 
of the three, the only part in which Massine had employed the steps of 
classic dancing, which thus threw it into especial prominence. Special to 
my part were a series of pirouettes in set postures, with one hand thrown 
up, and the other supporting the knee of a raised leg, after which I would 
do four pirouettes en dedans, and repeat exaedy, with the other leg off 
the ground. In the variations of the two other sailors (Woizikowsky and 
Slavinsky) tap dancing predominated. A most interesting feature were 
Slavinsky’s sauts, his part requiring sixteen sauts made in a horizontal 
position, with one leg immobile en arabesque against his body, while he 
leaped along on his other leg. 

The decor in black and white, and the costumes, all designed by the 
Spanish painter Pruna, were fresh and joyful and well suited the general 



SERGE DIAGHELEV 


atmosphere o£ the ballet. Indeed, the moment the three young sailors 
appeared, the house was already smiling. But that first night a remarkable 
incident occurred in connection with the ensemble danced by the sailors 
on chairs. The first to appear on the stage was Woizikowsky, the second 
Slavinsky, and the third myself. I was busy pasting a small moustache 
on to my lip in the wings, and was about to take hold of a chair, when 
that very moment Woizikowsky tries a chair, then quickly exchanges 
it with Slavinsky, who in turn takes my chair, handing me Woizikow- 
sky*s. I seize it, and, to my dismay, find it completely loose in the joints. 
We begin our dance with the chairs, and first the seat of my chair falls 

out, and dien one of the legs goes Nevertheless, I jump on my chair, 

but only to find a second leg drop ofi, leaving me with the back, the 
frame and two diagonal legs With a more cheerful smile than pos- 

sibly my part demands, I jump on my chair yet again, by some miracle 
preserving my balance, then drop on my seat as the last chord is struck; 
at which the whole thing collapses vdth a sound like the crack of a whip, 
and I fall to the stage amid the wild applause of the house. 

On the twentieth our last performance took place, the program con- 
sisting of Ijcs Fdcheux, Flore et Zephyre, Les Matelots and Le Train Bleu. 
It was a sad day for Dolin, who, with tears in his eyes, was, for the last 
time, dancing in Diaghilev’s ballet. As we were about to leave on our 
journey to London I said good-by to my late rival. We parted friends, 
and friends we arc still. In after years Dolin was always present at my 
performances, and would generously, unrepiningly, congratulate me on 
my successes, and be glad for my sake, . . . 

We resumed our important season in London on the zznd of June. 
During this second half of our season the whole ordering of the Ballet 
was left in my hands, and I was inundated with flowers, objects, fruit 
and letters. Diaghilev especially was lavish with flowers after each per- 
formance. The season was a brilliant and impressive success. On July 7th 
the London Music Club gave a reception in honor of Diaghilev and the 
Ballet. Serge Pavlovitch awaited it with immense trepidation, for, though 
a fascinating speaker and companion in private, or at small gatherings, 
he felt lost amid crowds, and would often sit in gloomy and total silence 
from beginning to end. On this occasion, however, the reception went 
ofiE very well. Serge Pavlovitch’s speech ‘‘On the Russian Ballet, not Omit- 
ting Russian Art” had been carefully prepared some time beforehand, 
and he delivered it perfectly and to the admiration of his audience, even 
though he began by attacking the lack of taste, and general ignorance, of 
the English in matters concerning the ballet. Earlier, on July 2nd, Diaghi- 
lev had given a gala performance at the Hotel Cecil in aid of the Russian 
Red Cross, which proved another of our triumphs. 

On August ist our big and happy London season came to an end 
with Le Mariage d*Aurore and the company broke up for a two months’ 
holiday. In the book of my life a new page was b ei ng turned. 



CHAPTER in 


ALYOSHA 

NOW WE left for Italy, and so began that part of my life in which I 
was most closely associated with Diaghilev, a connection that continued 
uninterrupted until Serge Pavlovitch’s death. In those four long years, 
each so dLfierent from the other, at times joyful and happy, at times 
troubled, painful, even tormenting, the image of this great man — ^in aD 
its complexity, its human incalculability — engraved itself forever on my 
mind: became, and will forever remain, the mainstay of my existence, 
so much part of me indeed that now it is difficult for me to treat it as 
a different entity. 

But how is one to build up an image of a relation compounded of so 
much that is trifling, uncapturable, barely apprehended: words, gestures, 
and imperceptible variations in the movement of the muscles of the face 
and hands? 

As ever, when real intimacy exists, people only talk frankly, revealingly, 
to each other at the very outset of their acquaintance. It is only as they 
enter upon a common path that people pour themselves out to each other, 
seek to discover each other. But the deeper their intimacy progresses, the 
more they learn to express themselves to each other, not in words, but 
half-words, to apprehend by hints and half-hints, till at last, having ceased 
to unburden themselves, having indeed lost that need, they cease also to 
understand each other, as each retires into his own shell. Such is the cruel 
law. Deep friendship and great intimacy must always begin by seeking to 
stabilize themselves in terms of propinquity, or sure spiritual ties, which 
often singularly remind one of a convict’s chains, till, as a result, only 
estrangement can ensue: and thus the lovely, vital, vibrant emotions of 
affiection are doomed to final destruction. Between such as are linked by 
the forms of domesticity^ real revelation ceases to take place. There is 
something ludicrous in expounding one’s views and convictions to that 
other self which shares one’s existence. It would indeed be far more re- 
vealing to listen to that other talking to some outsider, but even so, any 
such revelation must arouse a feeling of distrust, a feeling that it is pride 
or affectation which speaks. That is why the reminiscences of a great 
man’s relatives—- his wife, brother or sister, say — ^are, in the majority of 
cases, so pale, so utterly devoid of interest. It is not only because these 
relatives are imable to distinguish between what is important or trifling, 
between fundamental and superficial, inextricably mingled though they 
may be, but because they have nothing really to tell. True, they may know 

397 



298 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

every practical detail o£ the great man’s life: but the rich, the abundant 
inner world is a closed book. And so the reminiscences of a wife, to all 
intents and purposes, may differ not at all from those of a housekeeper. 
To the one, as to the other, was revealed only the great man’s common- 
place, ordinary, everyday life. 

If such a law may be generally applied, how much the more is it 
applicable in Diaghilev’s case, seeing how gready he feared all affecta- 
tion, and thereby taught me to fear and avoid it too. For Diaghilev, though 
fond enough of gossipy talks, felt not the slightest need to reveal or 
explain himself, nor needed words from another, to know, to feel, and 
love him as a friend. Nevertheless, towards the end of our life together, 
my links with him had somewhat weakened, and I developed a more 
independent existence. Yet it contented him suflGiciendy to go on loving 
me, in the knowledge that someone he held dear was close at his side. 
I, on the other hand, at twenty-two and twenty-three, wished to be able 
to share my every experience, and wished him, too, to share with me 
all that was in his soul, and all he lived by. But since the communion 
of our souls grew ever more rare, to me it seemed we were drifting 
apart. And indeed, so it was, but for reasons other than those of the law 
of friendship, about which I have written above. Nevertheless, the effect 
was similar, and I will come back to it in due course. 

Diaghilev had received me as an Alyosha Karamazov with a blind, 
unswerving faith, and as though it were a refuge. The thought of any 
change was anathema to him, I was always to be his Alyosha, the creature 
he had loved from the first. Often, in moments of tenderness, and there 
were many, particularly during 1925 and 1926, when it seemed our friend- 
ship was eternal, when neither had as yet thought of death, or sorrow, or 
the end of our friendship, when the world still seemed as though the 
gods had created it for us, and us alone, my “Kotushka,” my enormous 
and tender “Kotushka” as though rapt and motionless and unbreathing, 
would exclaim: 

“Seriozha, you were born for me!” 

And, indeed, every thought I had was for him. Meanwhile, desiring to 
keep me forever his, and as though fearful I might need him less, and 
perhaps depart, he sought to wall me off from others by interposing his 
own huge self, limiting me to one friend and one only, his cousin P. G. 
Koribut-Kubitovitch, whose devotion and crystal purity he solely trusted. 
Soon I found, however, that Serge Pavlovitch was less interested in my 
spiritual development than in my sartorial elegance, but I did not seek 
to oppose his plans, having by now put aside my dream that together 
we should achieve some miraculous spiritual perfection. There were 
treasures of tenderness in “Kotushka,” treasures of solicitude for those 
whom he loved. Then the great promoter of the Russian Ballet would 
change into the touching “Varlamoshka,” and, were I sad, would begin 
dancing, doing small tours and pirouettes in the hope of cheering me up. 



ALYOSHA 299 

“Have a look, Kuksa, at your Kotushka doing small tours and fnrou- 
ettes!*' and Serge Pavlovitch, the burly, ponderous Serge Pavlovitch, would 
begin “pirouetting” or imitating ballerinas sur les pointes, looking amaz- 
ingly like “Varlamov,^ the immense,” from which I drew my nickname 
“V arlamushka.” 

Serge Pavlovitch, always a late riser, when at last compelled to get up, 
would remain for a considerable time wandering about in soft felt slip- 
pers and a nightgown, reaching below the knees, dating back to his time 
in Russia. This was the garb in which he usually performed. 

“What else would you like me to show you.? Would you now like to 
watch your Kotushka dancing your own variations?” 

At which Serge Pavlovitch would begin dancing my variations, knock- 
ing against wardrobes, tables, armchairs, which would then go crashing 
over. 

To watch these ballet “exercises” was sheer physical delight. I would 
roar with wholehearted laughter, while inwardly I would be deeply 
touched, knowing it was all for me, to cheer me and make me smile. 

My “Kotushka” had many nicknames, but of all those I invented for 
him, the most suitable was undoubtedly “Othellushka.” ^ 

r>iaghilev was jealous of everyone and everything: of the Countess 
from Kiev, my childish love-dream, though separated from me by many 
frontiers; of the girls in the corps de ballet, of my dancing partners, of 
casual acquaintances, and of my stage successes. Always he demanded 
the whole of a person, and in return would shower back everything it 
was in his power to give, everything. But on one condition, and one only, 
that all should come from him, be given by or through him. All else was 
anathema to him. This tyrannical jealousy was part and parcel of his 
being: it appeared in all his personal relations, but became unbelievably 
intense wherever his nearest and dearest were concerned. 

In the past I have been her slave, and it had been a long, arduous busi- 
ness liberating myself, for the wound went on bleeding for years; yet, 
though at that time she no longer existed for me, nor reigned over my 
dreams. Serge Pavlovitch, nevertheless, continued to be jealous, suspected 
I was breaking my word, and was still corresponding with her. Always in 
terror lest I might abandon him, he would torment me with his jealousy. 
True, there were many temptations: our women dancers, other women, 
and especially ballet enthusiasts, in the theater and out, agitated and 
tormented my imagination, but that was all, for there it rested. 1 re- 
member how once, after a new ballerina had been engaged, and we had 
been working together. Serge Pavlovitch said to Grigoriev, the producer: 
“Sack the girl, why does she flirt with Lfifar?” and how it had needed 
considerable efEort to get the order rescinded. 

^ Varlamov, a comedian o£ immeasurable girth, was one of the leading and most popular 
actors of the Alexandriinsky Theater in Petrograd. (Ed.) 

^ Russian diminutive of Othello. (Ed.) 



SERGE DIAGHELEV 


300 

In his solicitude for my artistic career, and in imagination seeing the 
most famous ballerinas my partners, Diaghilev would engage them for 
me, and expect them to see my “genius” exactly as he did; nevertheless, 
the moment they sought to show any personal esteem for the mere man, 
apart from dancing, or seemed to die jealous eye of Diaghilev to give 
the slightest sign of so doing, he would immediately begin to frown, to 
rage, and be perfectly prepared, at any moment, to pick a quarrel and 
send them packing. 

Having admitted me to the circle of his friends, and gone to consider- 
able effort to make me better acquainted with them, a deep gloom would 
nevertheless descend on him when, as he thought, his friends seemed too 
attentive to me, or appeared to be trying to neutralize his influence and 
alienate us. He also disliked seeing them encourage me to stand on my 
own feet, for that, he feared, might make his friendship seem less essen- 
tial to me. 

Even more contradictory was his attitude to my stage successes. Though 
Serge Pavlovitch had done more than anyone to further and make them 
possible, and though no one delighted in my triumphs more, he was 
immensely jealous of those very successes, jealous even of the very ap- 
plause for which I had worked so hard, because he himself was not 
there on the stage to share it with me. 

This jealousy at times led to some exceedingly stormy scenes from 
my “OtheUushka,” the first soon after our arrival in Italy. Diaghilev was 
showing me the north, Stresa, and the lakes, and for some days we stayed 
at the Villa d’Este on Lake Como. The year 1925 had been an exception- 
ally happy and fortunate one for Serge Pavlovitch and, as a result of the 
London season, which had been brilliant in every sense of the word, he 
was in an especially exalted condition, kindly, endearing, and full of 
afiection and solicitude. Indeed, our life on the enchanting lake, under 
the friendly, calm, pale blue skies, seemed to me a veritable idyll. Never- 
theless, the merest of incidents almost destroyed it completely. Some 
friends of Diaghilev’s happened to be living nearby, and one day the lovely 
Mme. D. invited us to go over to dinner in their house at Cernobbio. 
Though she conversed at table with Serge Pavlovitch, her eyes kept turn- 
ing to me, and her manner was particularly kind and attentive. Soon I 
was aware that Diaghilev’s good humor had begun to alter, that he was 
fast losing his temper, and only just managing to keep himself in control. 
But when, after dinner, our beauty proposed we should go for a trip on 
the lake. Serge Pavlovitch, superstitious and mortally afraid of water,^ 
refused, saying: 

"No, I won’t: have your trip with Seriozha, and I’ll go home.” 

We spent a charming half hour on the lake, merrily talking. Delighted 
with the beauty of our surroundings and that of my companion, with 
whom moreover I could talk Russian (a pleasure that but seldom came 
my way, for my ignorance of other tongues condemned me frequent- 



ALYOSHA 


301 

ly to silence) I momentarily forgot Diaghilev’s black mood, and having 
accompanied my parmer home, returned to our hotel, totally unconcerned, 
and in the best of spirits* But as I was going upstairs to Serge Pavlovitch’s 
room, the concierge stopped me with the words: 

“Idonsteur Diaghilev esi partis et vous ct fait dire que vous pouvez 
passer id toutes vos vacances** 

I rush to his room, but Serge Pavlovitch is gone, and all his things with 
him. Whither? Nowhere but Milan, I tell myself, and hastily packing, 
hurry oif to the Milan hotel at which he usually stays. 

“Monsieur Diaghilev?” 

^*'M.onsieur Diaghilev vient d’anriver il y a dix minutes” 

I had litde difficulty in persuading Serge Pavlovitch how litde it had 
been my intention to offend him, my most convincing proof being 
doubdess the speed of my arrival. Besides, Diaghilev himself was begin- 
ning to fear that by his departure he might have rendered me more vul- 
nerable to the charms of Mme. D.; was indeed already beginning to regret 
his haste. . . . How many such scenes did I not endure in those four 
years! 

In Diaghilev, the confirmed bachelor, there was, nevertheless, a love and 
urge towards a patriarchal existence. Perpetually he dreamed of a home 
of his own; he, the eternal wanderer, longed for a setded life! My first 
blow to his hopes dates from 1925, when I refused to fraternize, over a 
glass of wine,® with one of his most intimate friends. 

Nevertheless, a thousand ties indissolubly bound me to him, the might- 
iest of which was art, and our service to it and the theater. It was our 
cloister, our life. And every performance invariably found Serge Pav- 
lovitch in the same calm, though tense, mood of excitement. 

“Seriozha,” he would say, “we have distinguished guests in the house 
today: there’s Rachmaninov in the stalls, Briand in one of the boxes, 
the Princesse de Polignac and the Comtessc dc Noailles in the first row 
of the stalls, Ronche in the third. Now, don’t let me down! . . . Please, 
darling, do your best, and don’t fail us aUl” 

Coco Chanel and Misia Sert would already be in the house, discussing 
yesterday’s rehearsal. Behind the scenes, though closed to the public, one 
would be sure of meeting a number of “adepts,” among others, Stravin- 
sky, Prokofiev, Cocteau, Picasso, and Tristan Bernard. London was the 
same, though there it was “Bernard Shaw, Lady Cunard” — or “Lady 
Eleanor wants to watch from the wings, it’s all right”; or "Marconi would 
like to see you” ... or, “here come Chaliapin and Pavlova.” 

Royal personages would be greeted by our leading artists in their boxes, 
sometimes with a gift of flowers. Very distinguished guests would be 
personally welcomed by Serge Pavlovitch, and during the intervals he 


B By Russian custxvm, you drank a glass of wine to pledge eternal friendship. The outward 
result was that you then "thou’d” each other afterwards. Under certain conditions it was 
considered a mortal offence to refuse such a pledge. (Ed.) 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


30i 

would present our principal artists to them. It was all letters, invitations, 
flowers, requests for photographs, autographs, interviews, dressing-room 
receptions after the performance, questions — ^half understood, and vaguely 
answered — ^in the still hovering glamor of the footlights, a sort of un- 
earthliness all about one; then supper, speeches 

I was enraptured with my life in the theater, my dancing, my appear- 
ances in front of the footlights, and no sacrifice was too great to demand 
of me, such was my devotion to it. Soon after this London season began, 
for instance. Serge Pavlovitch happened to make a casual remark that my 
make-up was not entirely satisfactory, and that my nose needed to be “put 
right.” Whereupon, without the least hesitation, I immediately decided 
to have my nose operated on, for once the stage seemed to require it, 
there remained no alternative. The operation itself took ten minutes, but 
I did not achieve my Grecian profile. Somewhat disappointed, I was 
willing to have the operation repeated, and at the same time get my ears 
“put right,” but Serge Pavlovitch would not hear of it. Later, he much 
regretted having been the cause of my first operation since, in his opinion, 
its shape had been better before. I still have the program on which he 
wrote; “With sincere wishes that a silly boy will become a wise boy, 
and long-nose, snub-nose!” 

Diaghilev would never permit his personal relations to interfere with 
theatrical matters. Though he might have weaknesses in his personal 
life, where art was concerned his verdict was final, and without recourse. 
In all my seven years with him, I only remember one occasion in which 
he was swayed by personal considerations. It happened in this way. The 
representative of a firm selling patent milk offered me for a signed 
testimonial, but when I consulted Diaghilev on the matter, he said: 

*‘You mustn’t on my account agree to such a price. I could understand 
your accepting an offer of, say, ^loo, or even but no, it’s not 
worth your while, you must have a proper idea of what your name’s 
worth.” 

Meanwhile I had discovered that another leading dancer, as well as 
a prima ballerina, had done what was wanted for >^50, and came to 
the conclusion that I had been foolish to go on refusing, particularly 
since, at the time, my salary was exceedingly modest. When next I saw 
Diaghilev, therefore, I was able to show him my check for ^£$0, But 
immediately there occurred something I could neva: possibly have imag- 
ined. Serge Pavlovitch flew into a tearing rage, began shouting abuse, 
and finally slapped my face. Equally annoyed and deeply offended by 
the injustice of it all — ^for had he not suggested I might accept ‘^100, 
or even ^^75? — ^I, too, lost my temper, locked myself in my room and 
smashed the whole of the contents. . . . Next day we were reconciled, but 
nevertheless it was clear that Diaghilev still bore me a grudge. A few 
days later we were about to give La Pastorale and I was pumping up 



AI/rOSHA 303 

my bicycle tires in readiness for the show, when Serge Pavlovitch ap- 
proached me crossly: 

*‘I say, have you changed your variation in the Pastorale?** (referring 
to his wish that I should do thirty-two entrachat-six instead of thirty-two 
entrechat-quatre, a suggestion we were considering for the future but 
which had by no means been finally decided upon). 

“No, I haven’t, and anyhow I can’t do anything without Balanchine.” 

Diaghilev said nothing and went out into the auditorium. 

Ijt Pastor (de began. Well in the middle of my variation, with horror, 
I heard the orchestra beginning on a long ritenuto and thus, after all, 
I was forced to dance the thirty-two entracht-six so that I almost scorched 
the soles oS. my feet. Blazing with nervous excitement I left the stage, 
but in the wings seized my ballerina partner by the neck, began at- 
tempting to strangle her, and was only pulled off with the greatest 
difficulty. After which I attempted to rush to the orchestra, intending 
to thrash Desormieres, the conductor, for executing Diaghilev’s orders 
without giving me the least warning. The performance over, I found 
some flowers from Serge Pavlovitch, with a card bearing but one word: 
“Peace.” 

AJl this, indeed, was hardly serious, and never led to any really bad 
blood. True, there were days when Diaghilev would look surly, be 
morose and apathetic; days when nothing would please him, when 
anguish and distress would seem his sole portion. Again, there were days 
when we would feel estranged and discontented one with the other, 
but there was nothing in all this of a festering or rancorous quarrel. The 
nearest approach to anything of the kind was an incident I well re- 
member. 

The whole thing started in the most ridiculously trivial way with 
Serge Pavlovitch wanting me to buy him something, and my refusing, 
simply because I did not want to go out. 

“So my kitten doesn’t want to do what I ask him to? Well, if that’s 
so, then I’m going to jump out of the window.” 

Whereupon Diaghilev went to the window, and with a smile threw one 
leg over the sill. 

“Serge Pavlovitch, for Heaven’s sake, stop joking. I tell you I won’t 
go, whatever you do.” Diaghilev, however, went on smiling, and actually 
made a sudden movement as though to throw himself out, as he said: 
“I really mean it!” 

“You’re mad. Serge Pavlovitch!” and, with a bound I seized him 
from behind and pulled him to the floor, struggling desperately. Any 
moment, it seemed, Diaghilev would crush me under his enormous body, 
but by some miracle I managed to escape and with one dexterous twist 
got both his shoulders touching the ground. 

Serge Pavlovitch, though tamed, was still formidable and, paling, 
glared at me furiously. 



304 SERGE DIAGHILEV 

“You must be absolutely mad.” 

Such intense and helpless anger glared at me from those eyes, so much 
injured dignity in one accustomed to command though never to sub- 
mit, that I would infinitely have preferred defeat than to have caused 
that look. . . . 

For the first time the lion’s nature in Diaghilev had revealed itself to 
my eyes, whereas before I had only vaguely suspected its existence. 

These digressions, however, have somewhat interrupted the chronologi- 
cal sequence of my story; I return, therefore, to my Italian holiday of 
1925. 

For two months, August and September, I enjoyed the perfect rest of 
traveling through Italy with Diaghilev for my guide, and M. and Mme. 
Legat as our companions. Such care, such solicitude enveloped me, that 
there were times when tears of happiness and joy would force themselves 
unbidden from my eyes. My memory will always hold this trip as one of 
the most important happenings in my life, one that did most to foster my 
spiritual development. 

The moment he found himself in Italy, Diaghilev immediately became 
benign and carefree. All care dropped from his shoulders as he plunged 
into his Italian happiness. Everything that was Italian gave him infinite 
delight — even the pickpockets. According to him, cheats and pickpockets 
were often admirable people, among whom perhaps more talent might 
be found than among decent, honest people; for in Diaghilev’s eye talent 
justified all things. 

“Only compare the Italian pickpocket with the French. The Italian is 
cheerful, likable, he makes a merry joke while cheating you, or pilfering 
your belongings, and if you catch him in the act, has such a charming way 
of saying *Scusit Signore! or *Scusi, "Eccelenza! (for all Italians addressed 
Diaghilev as ''Eccelenzal') that you can’t help forgiving him, whereas the 
French thief glowers surlily at you, and would think nothing of robbing 
you and then breaking your head.” 

There was some truth in these words, for up till 1922, Diaghilev’s 
favorite valet had been an Italian named Beppo, a cheerful, impertinent 
villain, who ended in jail for theft. Diaghilev knew that Beppo was dis- 
honest, insolent, and could not really be trusted; nevertheless, because he 
was by nature cheerful, full of quaint saws and quips and pranks, he 
grew to be quite fond of him in time. This Beppo was also married to 
a woman whom Serge Pavlovitch esteemed highly. When he spoke 
of her, it was as "that saintly woman,” and his attachment to her was 
nearly as great as to his stepmother. When, in 1920, Serge Pavlovitch 
fell dangerously ill (his first attack of diabetes), she literally nursed him 
back to life, and thus won his eternal gratitude. Always he visited her, 
and always, as he left, would ask her to bless him with the sign of the 
cross. 

One strange mania I must refer to. So very meticulous was Diaghilev 



ALYOSflA 505 

in verifying all Iiis bills and accounts^ and so long did he take to pay 
his cab-drivers, that any onlooker would have thought him a very miracle 
o£ miserliness. The truth was that Diaghilev could and did squander 
money, and had spent thousands upon thousands o£ pounds without a 
second thought, as it were; nevertheless, even the smallest error in a bill, 
possibly even the fraction of a penny, would make him immediately 
suspect he was being cheated. Whereupon his rage would flash up, and 
he would become almost ill with fury. The year 1925 was a particularly 
bad one in this respect in Paris, and endless difficulties would arise with 
hotel managements because of this strange “meanness” of his. Bills 
would arrive, and be laid aside, because he was busy and preoccupied. 
After a time, a second bill would arrive, whereupon he would remember 
receiving a similar account, and feeling certain it was paid, create a 
furious scene, and refuse to listen to any explanation. The upshot would 
be that he paid “again” as he thought, then left the hotel boiling with 
fury. Thus it was that in 1925 alone he fell out with the managements 
of the Continental, Wagram and St. James’s hotels. 

Quite unexpectedly we found that enough members of the cast had as- 
sembled in Venice to provide a performance, for in addition to us three, 
Diaghilev, Kokhno and I, there were also Legat, Alexandrinea Tru- 
sevitch, Sokolova, Woizikowsky and a few others. Serge Pavlovitch de- 
cided to give a private performance in the Palazzo Papadopoli, at that 
time inhabited by the Cole Porters. It was not to pass off, however, with- 
out two thunder storms, one from the skies, the other from Diaghilev. 
The first burst with tremendous violence while we were performing, 
and sank a number of gondolas; but the second burst when the per- 
formance was ended. The whole thing had been tremendously success- 
ful and our grateful, enthusiastic hosts had added to our usual “envelopes” 
a few presents, though what they were I don’t remember. For some 
reason or other, however, this fact produced an incredible outburst of 
rage from Diaghilev, who cried: “How do they dare give presents to 
my artists — my artists have no need of such paltry sops I” Then, like a 
raging lion, Diaghilev rushed oflE to the Piazza San Marco to storm and 
rave at our hosts, and as a result, created a first-class scandal which soon 
spread through the town. 

Not till the beginning of September did we leave for Florence, and all 
the time we were with the Legats. Meanwhile, I went on with the lessons 
I had begun in London under M. Legat, lessons which were continued in 
Florence, Rome and Naples. Through Diaghilev I learned to understand 
and love both Florence and Rome, but more particularly Florence, his 
beloved, holy town. Five consecutive days we spent in the Uffizzi — ^five 
marvelous days that eternally enriched my imagination with one revela- 
tion after another! 

Diaghilev was indefatigable in his enthusiasm to show me his Flor- 
ence, Florence as he knew and loved it. It made him happy and proud 



3o6 serge DIA.GHELEV 

to be transmitting his understanding and love, and I accepted it all with 
gratitude and due humility, listening, learning, assimilating, growing. 

I remember well one expedition to Fiesole. Not that we visited any 
particular place, for we merely sat talking on the restaurant terrace, as 
we watched the darkness creep up over distant Florence. . . . Nothing at 
all stands out in my mind of this drive to Fiesole, yet somehow it made 
me love Florence even more dearly, and remains in memory as one of the 
few perfectly luminous moments in my life. 

After Florence, Romel Of this first visit to Rome, all that remains 
are fragments and chips of impressions garnered in its museums, and an 
overwhelming impression o£ a vast accumulation of the treasures of art. 
An impression natural enough, considering the shortness of our stay. 
In all this, too, Diaghilev felt somewhat lost, puzzled to decide what was 
most important to show me. And besides, I was still saturated with my 
impressions of Florence, and somewhat weary of the ceaseless round of 
museums, intent on seeing everything they had to show. Fortimately, 
Diaghilev had no intention of showing me “all Rome” on this, my first 
occasion, and though I saw but little, that litde I saw well. 

Our two months’ tour in Italy ended in Naples, amid strident, motley 
crowds, for the whole populace appears to live solely out of doors, and 
I brought away memories of that lovely bay and of Pompeii and Hercu- 
laneum. 

On October ist, the whole company was again assembled in Paris, 
and but for a four-day tour to Antwerp, there we remained rehearsing 
until the 24th. Much work needed to be done, for our old repertory had 
to be gone over, and the new “creation” Barahau to be prepared. The 
music to this ballet was by Rieti, the sets and costumes by Utrillo. Also 
we had acquired a new choreographer, Balanchine, who, as a test of his 
powers, was entrusted with the new ballet. The experiment proving suc- 
cessful, Balanchine remained ballet master to the Ballet throughout the 
rest of its existence. 

Utrillo’s sets, however, proved somewhat difiScult to adapt to the stage, 
and Serge Pavlovitch was kept busy, therefore, modifying them to his 
requirements. As a result, he became for the nonce a sort of decorator- 
dressmaker, besides helping in other ways, as, for instance, suggesting that 
the chorus should be masked by a partition, so that only heads should be 
seen. 

On October 26th we started our two months season at the London 
Coliseum. Between that date and December 19th, we gave in all ninety- 
six performances, including a daily matinee, and all with the same un- 
varying success. Then, on December nth, we gave our first production 
of the new ballet Barabau, which was received with immense acclama- 
tion. 

This happy year in the lives of Diaghilev and myself, in which I 



ALYOSHA 307 

achieved my ambition of becoming a premier danseur, was now drawing 
to its dose as joyous and untroubled as it began. Nineteen hundred and 
twenty-six, however, opened more obscurely, and was to bring not a few 
reverses in its train; reverses which were eventually to pave the way for 
Diaghilev’s retirement from the ballet. How exaedy, I cannot say, but 
in some way they helped to direct his thoughts into other channels, and 
led him to find another occupation, one not connected with the stage. 
But this did not happen until 1927. 

From December 22nd until January 6th we were performing in Berlin. 
Yet, though our productions, and especially the new ballets, JLes Matelots^ 
and Flore et Zephyre proved a remarkable success, the Press praising us 
up to the skies, the big Kiinsdertheater remained, nevertheless, three- 
quarters empty, and the Ballet sustained a huge financial loss. Indeed, 
its whole material future was put in peril by this season. 

The only happiness that fell to Diaghilev at this time was the Christmas 
tree I set up for him on December 24th. The thought, and the tree 
itself, moved him deeply. He even wept tears, as he said that it was 
the first, the very first Christmas tree he had had since childhood, after 
which he began to recotmt memories of this, the happiest time in his 
life, as a schoolboy in Perm, mingled with reminiscences of that Russia 
of which he could never speak without tears. Nevertheless, the tree 
brought its own touch of sadness and reawakened his dreams of a hearth 
of his own, inaccessible though it seemed. 

Here in Berlin there occurred an event of the greatest importance to 
the ballet, namely, Nemchinova’s decision to leave. Unknown to us all, 
she had signed a contract to appear in London under the management 
of C. B. Cochran. 

Hurrying from Berlin, we reached Monte Carlo in time for January 
17th, the Principality’s annual fete. A week later, the twenty-fourth, a 
great gala in honor of the Prince was given, with Nemchinova and my- 
self dancing in Le Lac des Cygnes, From this moment, I could consider 
our whole classical repertoire my own. Some time later, Nemchinova got 
permission to absent herself, but did not return when the period ended. 

Serge Pavlovitch was exceedingly disturbed and highly indignant over 
Nemchinova’s behavior, and said, with an air of finality: 

“Vera Nemchinova is never going to dance in the Russian Ballet 
again!” 

He kept his word. 

Nemchinova’s flight opened the way for two young ballerinas, Nikitina 
and Danilova, but this in itself led to firesh complications. . . . 

All through the early part of 1926, after our Berlin disappointment, 
Diaghilev was subdued, oppressed, and unsettled. There were the Paris 
and London seasons to prepare, money was lacking, and there seemed 
no one to whom to turn. I remember how, while the opera season was in 
full swing, Serge Pavlovitch would lie abed for weeks, busy with “little 



3o8 serge diaghdolev 

talks and thinks” (as he termed it). Cheerless indeed these "talks” and 
"thinks” must have been, for his nerves had gone completely to pieces, 
and his diabetes had taken a turn for the worse and constandy plagued 
him. And here I must mention something of which I have always been 
proud, the fact that it was I who cured Serge Pavlovitch of the drug 
habit. Since he hated smoking, with no great effort I gave up cigarettes 
for his sake. This, however, provided me with some justification for 
"worrying” him to stop his drugging, which was undermining his 
physique and ruining his well-being. 

"I have given up smoking for you; you must abandon this filthy habit 
for my sake. . . 

"Do you know, Seriozha, a strange thing happened to me this morn- 
ing! I woke up and suddenly felt a strong repulsion to this powder. 
Really, I feel almost as though I*d never had the habit. I*m going to give 
it up once and for all now. I’m positive I don’t need it any more.” 

Serge Pavlovitch’s "little thinks” led him, in the end, to stake his 
all on Lord Rothermere, who, at that period, was keenly interested in 
our ballet and ballerinas. Rothermere, theoretically speaking, was per- 
fectly ready to provide financial support. But oh, the distance between 
theory and practice, and how agitated, restless, and wretched Diaghilev 
became under the almost intolerable strain. I well remember Diaghilev’s 
suppers to Lord Rothermere, and the state in which he would return, 
at times full of hope, and again as though relentlessly driven into some 
drear blind alley. Equally weU do I remember the perpetual telephonings, 
during which Serge Pavlovitch, sweating profusely, and quivering with 
nervous agitation, would call up Lord Rothermere every thirty minutes, 
hoping to find him in. And when at last he did succeed in speaking to 
him, making an appointment, to his chagrin the meeting would be either 
postponed or canceled. Meanwhile Nikitina, our dear and talented Alice 
Nikitina, regardless of the damage to her artistic career, was beginning 
to make all sorts of extravagant demands, to which Diaghilev was forced 
willy-nilly to submit, however it went against his artistic conscience. As 
time went on, the friction between them became more and more pro- 
nounced, till at last it ended in an open quarrel. Indeed, she several 
times retired temporarily from the company. 

Eventually, and after innumerable delays, a sufficient amount of money 
was advanced, costly though it was, and sadly as it encroached upon the 
season’s harvest, and Diaghilev hastily, nervously, set to work preparing 
a Paris season which was to include a new ballet entitled Romeo and 
Juliet, for which a young Englishman, Constant Lambert, had written 
the music. That February I happened to be absent, for Serge Pavlovitch 
had sent me, with Pavel Georgievitch, to Milan, to go on working under 
Cecchetti, and when I returned in March, the preparations were already 
in full swing. Meanwhile, Diaghilev was negotiating with Kshesinskaya, 



ALYOSHA 309 

though nothing came o£ it, had invited Karsavina to join the Ballet, and 
had engaged Nijinska to produce Romeo and Juliet. I stayed but a few 
short days in Paris, then left for Monte Carlo with Kokhno, in advance 
of the others. The day we were leaving. Serge Pavlovitch sent us up to 
Montmartre to look at a show by a group of surrealist painters, including 
Ernst and Mtro. Having reached the studio, we walked round in silence, 
and in silence looked at the pictures, of which we could make nothing. 

When he was seeing us off at the station: “How did you like the sur- 
realists?’* asked Diaghilev. 

Kokhno said something about “all this nonsense not being worth the 
time spent on it.” Though inwardly entirely of the same opinion, I 
nevertheless, influenced by a sudden thought that perhaps there was some- 
thing important underneath it aU, which neither Kokhno nor I was 
capable of seeing, more cautiously said: 

“I didn’t like Ernst and Miro, and I didn’t understand surrealism at 
all, but you’d perhaps better go and see for yourself.” 

A few days later Diaghilev arrived in Monte Carlo . . . with Ernst and 
Mirb, whom he had commissioned to paint the sets for Romeo and Juliet. 
He was wholly wrapped up in his new friends, bothered practically not 
at all about the season, hardly ever attended rehearsals, or even noticed 
what was going on. Far more than in the coming ballet season, was he 
interested in discussing art with Ernst, talks which began at evening and 
often went on till five next morning. This reawakening of an old inter- 
est seemed actually to rejuvenate him again. In gratitude for my advice 
to go and see the surrealists for himself, Diaghilev had brought from 
Paris some paintings by both Miro and Ernst which had particularly 
fa kpn his fancy, and these he presented to me, thus laying the founda- 
tion of my collection. He had done the same once before for Massine, 
presenting him with a collection of first-rate pictures, including an ex- 
cellent Matisse, Braque, Derain and a number of works by Italian futur- 
ists. Thereafter, my own collection grew also with each first night and 
every holiday. 

Now the company began to collect in Monte Carlo, increased by die 
addition of Karsavina and Nijinska 

Nijinska, however, discovering that Karsavina and I were to dance in 
Romeo and Jtdiet, declared: 

“I insist on our holding an lamination for M. Lifar. I would never 
consent to his dancing the part of Romeo without such a test.” 

The reader may picture my indignation. What? Make the company’s 
first dancer pass an examination as though he were merely some un- 
known super! But Serge Pavlovitch quickly reassured me: 

“It’s all right, Seriozha. Don’t fuss, and don’t get angry. Nijinska wants 
an examination; well, she shall have it. Tant pis pour elleV* 

Examination day came. Our teacher, Legat, was at the piano, and, 
noticing how nervous and agitated I was — ^I had gone as white as a sheet 



SERGE DIAGHDLEV 


310 

— ^he did his best to reassure and encourage me. Whereupon Serge Pav- 
lovitch, Pavel Gcorgievitch and Kokhno appeared, and after them 
Nijinska. . . . 

My “examination” took half an hour, and I danced as I had never 
danced before. Lcgat began by setting me small variations, then, noticing 
how enthusiastically I soared, and the ease with which I accomplished my 
twelve pirouettes, my three tours en Voir, led me through more and more 
complicated steps. The “examination” ended with Legat abruptly leav- 
ing the piano and kissing me in his delight, to be followed by Serge 
Pavlovitch, who also embraced and congratulated me, saying: “Tomor- 
row wc begin the production.” Nijinska herself was obviously troubled. 

On the “morrow” I began rehearsing with Karsavina. At first I felt 
lost: I could hardly believe I was dancing with the glorious, die famous, 
“Tata” Karsavina 1 With all the ardor of youth (I had just celebrated my 
twenty-first birthday) I was already kissing the earth at her feet, already 
desperately in love. And Karsavina took to me, treated me kindly and in- 
dulgendy, much to Serge Pavlovitch^s delight. 

At last we gave our premise of Romeo and Juliet . ... I danced in great 
exaltation, covered the stage as on wings — ^something was singing and 
soaring inside me ... I knew I was dancing as never before. Our success 
was tremendous: applause and masses of flowers, and among them some 
from Diaghilev, and a bouquet of magnificent roses with a charming 
note: “Most heart-felt wishes for a brilliant success. Tamara Karsavina.” 
These roses I took to my room, and returned to await my partner, whom 
I was to accompany to the supper celebrating our premiere. But, as I 
was waiting, along came Serge Pavlovitch: 

“What are you doing here?” 

“I*m waiting for Tamara Platonovna.” 

He said nothing, and went away, visibly irritated, an angry frown on 
his face. All his good humor had vanished. A few moments later Kar- 
savina appeared, we all had supper, and then, having accompanied her 
home, I returned buoyant and cheerful to my hotel room. One glance, 
and I saw that my roses, the roses given me by Karsavina, no longer stood 
on the table. Throwing open the window, I saw them littering the court- 
yard. A piercing pang, followed by furious rage, took possession of me. 
Was it possible that Diaghilev could have flung my roses away, the roses 
of my triumph? Like a second Romeo, I swiftly knotted my towels 
into a ladder, and was already beginning to climb down, when Serge 
Pavlovitch appeared like a whirlwind, grabbed me by the hair, and 
pulled me back into the room. 

Whereupon there ensued a scene, remarkable even in the annals of such 
scenes, at which the whole hotel seemed to wake into life. 

“How dare you permit yourself to behave so indecendy in front of the 
members of my company? I will not permit my theater to be turned 



ALYOSHA 3 1 1 

into a den o£ vice. I’ll turn out all these women who hang round the 
necks of my dancers in front of everyone’s eyes. And you, my ‘first 
dancer,’ have nothing better to do than fall for the first woman’s smile. 
Trust me to clear you Irath out of the theater. . . .” After which, as im- 
petuously as he had entered. Serge Pavlovitch left, sl amming the door 
with such force that every door in the corridor rattled. 

As I was waking next morning, I overheard a conversation in the next 
room between my faithful old friend and nanny, my best and most 
charming Pavel Georgievitch, who had arrived to “reason” with 
Diaghilev and restore peace. Diaghilcv was saying: 

“It isn’t him so much I’m accusing, as her. He’s still a boy, much too 
innocent and incsperienced yet, and that’s why it’s easy for any experi- 
enced woman to lead him astray. But what about Karsavina! How could 
I possibly imagine that any nice-looking youngster would tempt her? Of 
course, Lifar melted like butter at once, and now he’s head over heels. 
You’ll see, Pavka, he’ll desert us all for her: they’re beginning a serious 
affair, you’ll see how it’s all going to end. . . .” 

“What nonsense you’re talking, Seriozha: as if you didn’t know our 
Seriozha, and how utterly inaccessible Tamara Platonovna is. What a 
romance you’re inventing! You yourself wanted Karsavina to be kind 
to the boy and encourage him, to give him faith in himself- And now 
when Tata so kindly, so charmingly, gives him his due, and even sends 
him flowers, you imagine God knows what, and fill your head with 
things that never were and never could be true. 

“Seriozha, too, I understand perfeedy well,” Pavel Georgievitch’s voice 
went on reasonably and quiedy. “Only think of the effect on him of be- 
coming Karsavina’s partner, the world-renowned Karsavina, who not 
only dances with him as an equal, but also sends him flowers! It seems 
to me rather touching in him to value ha: flowers so highly, and be so 
determined to get them back. It isn’t he, it’s you who are at fault, Serio- 
zha, what with unjusdy offending him, and making him aware, by your 
scenes, of things he would never have given a thought to else. . . 

Whereupon Serge Pavlovitch gradually calmed down, and asked me to 
lunch at the Cafe de Paris. On the way, looking at me in sad reproach, 
with a deep sigh, he said: 

“Yes, indeed, Seriozha, things have come to pass which I would never 
have expected of you. , . . You really should give a thought to the way 
you’re behaving and what you’re doing. Even so good a friend as Pavel 
Georgievitch, who always defends you warmly, feels seriously annoyed 
with you this time.” 

It was impossible not to burst out laughing, whereupon Serge Pav- 
lovitch gave me the kindest imaginable smile, which instantly sealed our 
peace. 

That Easter was “greeted” in Mme. Kshesinskaya’s villa at Cap d’Ail. 
Some forty in all had been invited to partake of the Easter breakfast. 



SERGE DIAGHTLEV 


31^ 

and what a banquet it was! Never have I seen so princely a meal> First 
we attended the midnight service in the Russian church at Mentone, and 
then motored over to Cap d*AiL There I “broke my fast” so lavishly at 
the groaning, cheerful table, that soon enough the wine went to my head, 
and by the time dessert was being served I was bold enough to pluck a 
rose from the table decorations, rise, and to the astonishment of all, take 
it round to our hostess: 

“Mathilde Felixovna, let me present you with this rose!” 

A moment of indecision was followed by loud cries of “Bravo, bravo!” 
After which Mme. Kshesinskaya, touched by my strange and improvised 
greeting, rewarded me by opening the subsequent ball with me as her 
partner in the traditional polonaise. Later events I remember as little now 
as I did then, my mood being far too festive to notice anything much. 
How it happened I have no recollection, but some time or other I dis- 
covered myself behind a sofa flirting with Karsavina: she, on the floor, 
signing Kshesinskaya’s golden book, and I scribbling my signature over 

hers. Everyone was dancing and thoroughly enjoying themselves 1 felt 

merry and buoyant . . . when suddenly I heard Serge Pavlovitch saying in 
a stern, threatening voice: 

“You seem much too gay, young man, isn’t it time you were at home?” 

And the young man, though much against his will, was driven off to 

bed. . , . 

Having given our last perform^ce at Monte Carlo on May 7 th, we 
left for Paris on the thirteenth, bringing with us four new ballets : Bara- 
bau, Romeo and Juliet, La Pastorale and in the Box. I had parts 
in each of these ballets and so, with some justice, could consider the 
approaching season as my own. 

Not only the rather pallid ]ac\ in the Box, but even the colorful La 
Pastorale were left comparatively unnoticed, relegated to the background 
by the real clou of the season, Romeo and Juliet, a ‘'Repitition sans 
decor en deux parties." Long before the first night, on May i 8 th, the 
new “surreaHst” ballet had provoked an immense amount of discussion. 
The police had also informed Diaghilev that both surrealists and com- 
munists intended to stage a demonstration, at which they meant to 
thrash that “bourgeois” Diaghilev, as well as the traitors Ernst and Mirb, 
who had sold themselves to the “bourgeois,” and offered to provide a 
special guard. To this Diaghilev replied that his confidence in the police 
was unbounded, and that he approved of any measures they proposed 
to take; but, nevertheless, he would be very grateful if no uniformed 
men were placed in the theater. 

As a result we were all in a keyed-up, nervous condition, especially 
Diaghilev, as was shown by his pallid face and the increased severity 

* After the midnig'ht Easter service, Russians usually broke thdr fast with a sumptuous 
meal, which often lasted well into the early hours, and at which many jolly old customs 
were observed. This festive occasion was called “greeting Easter." (Ed.) 




Pavel Georgievitch Koribut-Kubitovitch 




ALYOSHA 313 

o£ his tic. Finally the day o£ the performance arrived, whereupon, begging 
Diaghilev to entrust the whole matter to me, I assembled the company 
and told them that we must now consider ourselves shock troops, and 
that, if any demonstrators should try to climb the footlights, we must 
attack in our turn, and let nothing stop us making cripples of them all. 

It was May i8th. The performance began. Not a vacant seat was left in 
the whole of the Sarah Bernhardt Theater. The first ballet, Stravinsky’s 
Ptdcinella, went o£E calmly, and was received with universal applause. 
But after the interval, the curtain went up on . . . “a curtain” which, as 
the critic V, Svetlov describes it, “disclosed only a few commas and 
smudges, which any scene painter’s assistant could have produced, with- 
out in any way claiming relationship to the surrealist community.” We, 
the dancers, were discovered in our working clothes, busy at a dancing 
lesson on the stage, when suddenly such a din of howls and whistling 
was heard that not one note of the music could pierce through. Never- 
theless, though met by this perfect hurricane of mad cries and incredible 
yells, we began our performance. Nobody, however, paid the least atten- 
tion to the stage, while from the gallery white leaflets, proclamations,® 
began fluttering down till the house looked as though there had been a 
snowstorm. Meanwhile, in the auditorium, a pitched batde seemed to be 
raging. I saw one of Diaghilev’s great friends, lya, Lady Abdy (daughter 
of the dramatic artist and playwright and granddaughter of the painter 
Gu^), slap a man’s face, and at the same moment someone tore her 
dress. Then plain-clothes policemen began to appear from all sides, seized 
hold of the “demonstrators,” and removed them from the house. During 
all this, someone was trying to lower the curtain, but I managed to push 
it aside, heavy though it was, the management’s orders being that on no 
account was the curtain to be lowered. Desormi^es, the conductor, had 
stopped the orchestra. 

It only took two or three minutes for the Paris police to quell the 
“riot,” after which the curtain went up, a new start was made, and the 
ballet was safely enacted. 

All this had but one result, that Paris did nothing but talk of the new 
ballet, so that whenever it was given (May 20th and 27th) we played 
to crammed houses. 

I recall, about this time, what seems to me a very characteristic and re- 
vealing incident as to the manner in which both Diaghilev and Stravinsky 
analyzed dance rhythms. It took place in connection with our revival of 
Les Noces, the sole male parts in which had been assigned to Balanchine 
and myself. Just before the performance, while still in the rehearsal room, 
both of us began inventing dance steps, which, though they responded 
to the general lines of the music, by no means followed the tempo. Ac- 
tually, it would have been physically impossible to do so in the ten min- 
utes at our disposal, when to fit our steps exactly to die tempo would have 

® A stirrealist inaiufesto. For text see Appendix B. (Ed.) 



SERGE DIAGHILEV 


314 

necessitated quite a month’s hard work. Meanwhile Diaghilev, Stravin- 
sky, and the whole Ballet were watching us. But whereas the company 
could not restrain their laughter at our efforts, Diaghilev and Stravinsky, 
on the contrary, nodded approvingly, and said: 

“Well done, boys, very well donel*’ 

Such indeed was our virtuosity in our art, that what to others seemed 
obvious discrepancy between the dancing and musical rhythms, to these 
specialists appeared as perfect musical sense and “expert syncopation,” 
and it was in the same manner that later we treated the Sacre du Prin- 
temps. 

Our Paris season having ended, we set off immediately for London, 
where we were scheduled to appear from June 14th to July 23rd. Our 
star ballerina in this city was Karsavina, and it was while I was dancing 
with her that, for the first time, I felt I was no longer merely the bal- 
lerina’s physical support, but something that sustained her with every 
other faculty in my possession. In all my connection with the Ballet I 
cannot remember a more brilliant, more triumphant season than this, 
with, perhaps, the exception of the very last, in 1929. The public literally 
carried us shoulder high, smothered us with flowers and presents. Kvery 
one of oxxr ballets, the old as well as the new, were ecstatically received 
with unending storms of applause. 

Very successful, too, was the exhibition of my own collection of paint- 
ings at the New Chenil Gallery, which opened on July 4th, and included 
ten Derains, eight Max Ernsts, three Picassos, nine Prunas, and six Mirds. 

The season over, the company broke up for a three months’ holiday, 
though holidays of such duration were rare in Diaghilev’s ballet, and 
dispersed in all directions. Still, we had worked very hard, and we all 
deserved it. 

And again I went to Italy, but now I was most of the time alone, or 
with Pavel Georgievitch and Cecchetti. Now and then Diaghilev would 
put in a brief appearance, only to depart again for Paris or Monte Carlo, 
where he was busy with preparations for the coming season. Only in 
August did we “travel” in any real sense of the word, revisiting Florence 
and Naples. Then, at the end of the month, Pavel Georgievitch and I 
established ourselves on the Lido, after which I left for Milan, and, 
throughout October, once more worked under Cecchetti. While in Flor- 
ence I made the acquaintance of an old friend of Diaghilev’s, the English 
poet, Sacheverell Sitwell. Serge Pavlovitch became fired with the idea of 
producing a new, important ballet, the “little talks” began, and Sitwell 
began working on the libretto of The 'Triumph of Neptune. Balanchine 
was called in, we met in Naples, and Lord Berners set to work on the 
music. Thus our holidays became, instead, a period of strenuous effort. 

By November ist the whole company had reassembled in Paris, and, 
time pressing, began rehearsals for the approaching season at the Lyceum. 
With Nikitina’s departure, the Ballet was somewhat in need of more 



ALYOSHA 315 

prima ballerinas, since the whole work had to be borne by Sokolova and 
Danilova, though chiefly by the latter, for on her mainly depended the 
success of our most strenuous month in London. As a result Diaghilcv 
invited Lopokova to appear in UOiscau de Feu^ which she did amid 
veritable storms of applause. A particularly magnificent, triumphant per- 
formance of this ballet was that given on November 27th, attended by 
the King of Spain. 

On December 3rd we gave our first performance of The Triumph of 
Neptune, but it might as well have been called the “Triumph of 
Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet” or the “Triumph of Danilova, Sokolova, 
Lifar, Idzikowsky and Balanchine,” so remarkable was the public’s be- 
havior. Flowers, hats and objects of one kind and another were showered 
on the stage, there were innumerable recalls, and it was impossible to 

lower the curtain This ballet was subsequendy repeated nighdy, and 

each time with equally remarkable success. 

It was during this season that I was all but involved in a serious acci- 
dent. We were giving he Lac des Cygnes in which I had to dance with 
Danilova, but while I was practicing steps with Balanchine in the wings, 
awaiting my cue, I leaped in the air and struck the concrete ceiling with 
great force. Fortunately I was wearing my wig, yet^ nevertheless, blood 
began oozing out, while I was due to go on the stage at any moment. I 
have no recollection at all how I managed, my head bleeding and pain- 
fully aching, to go on and dance my part. But the performance ended, I 
was hurried to hospital, and there underwent a minor operation, which 
kept me in bed several days. 

On December nth our last London performance took place, compris- 
ing UOiseau de Feu, The Triumph of Neptune and Le Manage 
d'Aurore. Next day we left for Paris, and thence for an Italian tour of a 
fortnight in Turin, from December 24th to January 6th, and three nights 
in Milan (January loth, 12th and i6th, 1927). Meanwhile, Serge Pav- 
lovitch had again invited Massine to join us as choreographer, and Olga 
Spessiva to join us as prima ballerina for both our modern and classical 
repertory. I found it very pleasant to work with her. 

One performance of Le Lac des Cygnes stands out with especial vivid- 
ness in my mind. Massine had thought fit to rearrange the old ballet 
and, without warning either Spessiva or myself, instructed our conductor, 
Inghelbrecht, to introduce certain modifications in the tempo. As a result, 
the famous pas de deux was played at about half the speed we had got 
used to takin g it, which meant almost slow-motion dancing. Meanwhile, 
the whole company, with bated breath, waited to see how we should 
acquit ourselves in this most difficult dilemma, for then and there we 
were forced to recast our parts, and change the whole manner of our 
dancing. As we were dancing to a full house, in front of many of the 
leading figures in Italian society, much hung on how we acquitted our- 
selves. But, to our relief, when the pas de deux came to an end, a tumult 



3i6 serge diaghelev 

of cries anH enthusiastic applause broke out. Then Spessiva began to 
dance her own variation, that too at half its tempo, while my heart seemed 
to contract with amazement, beatitude and rapture. 

I was watching Spessiva, and admiring her performance; but, as my 
own entry drew near, a feeling of rage began to master me, for I 
realized that Inghelbrecht meant to continue his slow-motion tempo, and 
that would in evitably destroy the effect of my own variation. "Where- 
upon, I leaped out on the stage, and clapping my hands, gave the con- 
ductor the right time. My clappings and beats had their effect, and soon 
Inghelbrecht was conducting at a terrific tempo. 

The performance ended, I got the company together, and we worked 
out a petition asking for Inghelbrecht’s removal and replacement by 
some other conductor, and this was submitted to Diaghilev through 
Grigoriev, though, truth to tell, Inghelbrecht could hardly be considered 
responsible in the matter. Serge Pavlovitch, however, observing that the 
petition was covered with names, tore it up, unread, saying; “I don’t 
accept collective demands and protests.” 

This illegitimate and, considering my relation to Diaghilev, somewhat 
inexplicable act, was nevertheless comprehensible, for I had been driven 
to it by mad fury: so too was the way in which the whole company re- 
acted, and the warm support they gave me. Having begun myself in the 
corps de ballet, and risen to be first dancer, I did not, in spite of my 
altered circumstances, turn away from my former